Biofuels Boondoggle? – Should We Stop Spending So Much Time & Money on Plant Biofuels Research?

R crumb keep on truckinIt’s Where The Money Is

I’ve recently read several articles questioning the viability of plant-based biofuels:

Venter: Biofuels dead without U.S. aid

Report questions the sustainability of algal biofuels

Nestle claims biofuels as reason for high food prices

Bioenergy: The Broken Promise

Cost-Effectiveness of Biofuels and Their Ability to Cut Fossil Fuel Use Questioned (see Ref. 1 below)

The USDA alone allocated $118 million in 2008 Farm Bill for Biomass Research and Development and this amount will increase to $130 million if the current proposed 2012 Farm Bill is passed by Congress.

On top of this, President Obama proposed last spring to add another $35 million for biofuels research.

It’s no wonder plant scientists are scrambling to get on the biofuels research “gravy-train”.

Just as the reason banks are robbed “because that’s where the money is”, some in the plant science research community (generally, a chronically-underfunded bunch) are redirecting their efforts to biofuels-related research because, at least for now, that’s where the money is.

3837904019 7e7f271591Feed People, Not Cars

But I wonder if such a large proportion of US plant scientists’ time and effort should be devoted to research that apparently will have marginal, at best (and even questionable) impacts on ameliorating global warming?

Also, with the recent news that the U.S. will likely be the #1 oil producer in the world within 10 years, does cultivating plants to make fuel for cars and planes and ships really make much sense?

Moreover, evidence that growing plants for fuel production may contribute to higher food prices, even to food scarcity, renders this an even more serious question.

It seems to me, what makes more sense is to increase research efforts aimed at improving our understanding of plant stress tolerance, especially heat and drought tolerance.

This is because, if most climate scientists are correct, incidents like the 2012 U.S. drought may, unfortunately, become more frequent, on a global scale.

Thus, wouldn’t it make more sense at the present time to significantly increase funding for plant stress research as an insurance policy against potential future crop disasters?

Maybe some the of the research funds currently devoted to help perpetuate the internal combustion engine would be better spent encouraging plant scientists to turn their attention to research projects aimed, ultimately, at developing more stress- and disease-tolerant crop plants.

Updates:

Editorial: Biofuels Reassessed.

Biofuels: “Irrational” and “worse than fossil fuels”.

References

1. Jaeger, W. K. and T. M. Egelkraut (2011) “Biofuel Economics in a Setting of Multiple Objectives & Unintended Consequences.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Vol. 15, p.4320-4333. (Full Text)

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