By Brandon Keim

Feb 10, Wired

When all relevant factors are accounted for, biofuels produce more greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels.

So conclude two studies published yesterday in Science, adding to a growing body of research suggesting that crop-based fuels, once hailed as a clean answer to oil, are not a magic green bullet.

Biofuels seemed so promising at first -- what could be cleaner than running our cars and factories on plants? But early prognostications were a bit thin on details. They didn't always account for the energy that would be needed to grow, harvest and refine the fuels. Most importantly, they didn't consider that greenhouse gas-gobbling vegetation would need to be cleared for fuel crops -- or, if these were planted on existing pastures, that new fields would be cleared to make space for displaced food crops.

Put these factors in the equation, and biofuels don't do much good at all. The first study, led by Princton University environmental law researcher Timothy Searchinger, found that replacing fossil fuels with corn-based ethanol -- the darling of the U.S. biofuel industry -- would double greenhouse gas emissions for the next thirty years. Even switchgrass, seen as a far more efficient alternative, would produce a 50% bump in emissions.

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