OSU study questions biofuels viability

OSU researcher Bill Jaeger says biofuels don't pencil.

OSU researcher Bill Jaeger says biofuels don't pencil.

A new economic analysis from Oregon State University raises questions about the cost-effectiveness and climate impact of biofuels production.

The report found that implementing a gas tax to reduce fossil fuel use or spending money on energy efficiency programs would have better bang for the buck when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"Our results suggest that existing biofuel policies have been very costly, produce negligible reductions in fossil fuel use and increase, rather than decrease, greenhouse gas emissions," said Bill Jaeger, a professor in the agricultural and resource economics department at OSU and lead author on the study.

Biofuels, alternatives to fossil fuel made from plant material, are thought of as carbon-neutral because the carbon dioxide emitted when they're burned is estimated to be the same that was absorbed while the the plants were growing.

The report is a damning take on a government program that just resulted in close to $10 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture Grants for OSU researchers who are working on developing a biofuels oriented education program and researching new ways to make biofuel from forest and agricultural waste.

Jaeger said his study did not consider forest and agricultural waste as an input and instead focused on the large-scale biofuels production responsible for the bulk of the fuel being used in the U.S. and Europe.

The study, which can be downloaded here, examined corn ethanol, soybean biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass grown in the United States, canola biodiesel produced in Europe and sugarcane ethanol produced in Brazil and exported to the United States or Europe.

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