According to study by chemistry Nobel Prize winner Paul J. Crutzen
, biofuels, which are increasing in popularity in numerous countries worldwide as a strong and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels, could actually contribute to global warming.
The study explains, Reuters reports
, that due to current industrial farming methods, biofuel production actually causes a large number of greenhouse gases to be emitted.
Biofuels, which are derived from plants such as corn, hemp or canola, require producers to use industrial fertilizer which actually increase the output of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.
Nitrous oxide is “300 times more insulating than the commonest man-made greenhouse gas carbon dioxide,” states the Reuters article.
"The nitrous oxide emission on its own can cancel out the overall benefit," co-author Professor Keith Smith told Reuters in a phone interview.
In Europe, the article explains, biofuels made mostly out of canola, could produce between 1 and 1.7 times more global-warming inducing greenhouse gases than conventional diesel.
Corn, mostly used in the United States and in Canada as a base for ethanol fuel, was shown to produce between 0.9 and 1.5 times the global warming effect of conventional gasoline.
Sugar cane, which is used in Brazil, is one of the cleaner options, producing only between 0.5 and 0.9 times as much greenhouse gases as gasoline.
The findings are putting into question the efforts made by many governments in cleaning up their environmental act.
The Reuters report adds that the study did not even take into consideration “the extra global warming effect of burning fossil fuels in biofuel manufacture, or for the planet-cooling effect of using biofuel by-products as a substitute for coal in electricity generation.”
Although Crutzen’s study seems to burn biofuels at the stake, the scientist suggests rather that scientists and farmers work in collaboration to focus on crops which would require little fertilization, such as willows and poplars.
The research team also suggests farmers look for harvesting methods requiring less energy.
"In future if you use low nitrogen demanding crops, and low impact agriculture, then we could get a benefit," said Professor Smith.
Massive production of synthetic fertilizer during the 20th century has almost doubled the amount of nitrogen in the global system, adding nearly 100 million tonnes, Smith also said.