Is It Time To Abandon Growing Crops For Biofuels?

Plants – Food Versus Fuel

A recently published report has pounded another nail in the biofuels coffin.

This report, published by the World Resources Institute provides evidence that governments have made a mistake by supporting the large-scale conversion of plants into fuel.

Turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand, the report found. It added that continuing to pursue this strategy — which has already led to billions of dollars of investment — is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world’s growing population.” (from Ref. 1 below)

I’ve always been a skeptic of industrial-scale cultivation of plants for bioenergy (see here, for example.)

Please Note: This does NOT mean I’m against recycling used vegetable oil to make biodiesel, for example, or the conversion of waste biomass into ethanol.

But is spending tens of millions of dollars on biofuels-related plant research to facilitate the conversion of natural grasslands, and even croplands, to grow plants to be harvested and then be chemically converted into fuel for cars, jets and ships a misguided policy?

After reading this report you may indeed think so.

To read a summary of this report – or to download a free copy of the report itself (PDF) – please click on the link in Ref. 2 below.

News Update: The U.S. Is Pumping So Much Oil It’s Running Out of Places to Stash It.

Research Update: On a cheerier note, at least some “biofuels” federal grants are being used to fund basic research on the nature of plant cell walls. (Please see here, for example.)


1. Justin Gillis (January 28, 2015) “New Report Urges Western Governments to Reconsider Reliance on Biofuels”, New York Times.

2. Tim Searchinger and Ralph Heimlich (January 2015) “Avoiding Bioenergy Competition for Food Crops and Land”, World Resources Institute.

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One Comment

  1. The problem is not that there is not enough food; it’s distribution.
    Americans wasted 33 million tons of food in 2012. We toss 40% of our food in the garbage.
    As far as biofuels, we should not subsidize corn; we should grow hemp. We can process ethanol or biodiesel from hemp. It grows very quickly (like a weed) and has a high tolerance against pests, reducing the need for harmful pesticides.

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