25x'25 Responds to Media Coverage of Studies Published in Science Magazine
02/11/08

The following statement is a response from the National 25x'25 Steering Committee to widespread media coverage of studies published by Science Magazine last week:

Studies recently detailed in Science magazine address the possible consequences of a faulty approach to utilizing lands to produce biofuel feedstocks. Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the studies failed to report that they also identified ways to avoid these problems and insure that future biofuels give us both a new renewable energy source and greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The 25x'25 Alliance and its partners are one in their agreement that environmentally sensitive lands should not be exploited in pursuit of renewable fuels. In fact, we have long held that the growing increase in demand for energy, along with food, feed and fiber, can be met with a boost in production facilitated by advances in technology. Increased demand for cellulosic ethanol and the next generation of biofuels has led to research into enhancing existing crops, such as corn and soybeans, with enzymes specifically geared towards ethanol production. While biofuels will lower the cost of farming inputs, higher yielding, technology-enhanced crops can make existing acreage more productive, helping prevent encroachment of biofuel feedstock production onto sensitive lands.

The current generation of biofuels is leading to a new stage of cellulosic biofuel development that will not only minimize land use changes, but will actually enhance the environment. For example, a recent five-year, three-state study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln shows that switchgrass grown for biofuel production produced 540 percent more energy than that needed to grow, harvest and process it into cellulosic ethanol. The study, recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also shows that along with the energy advances, switchgrass also offers significant environmental benefits, including many conservation uses ‑ the deep fibrous roots of the plant help to keep soil intact and virtually stop runoff. It puts organic material back into the ground, improving soil, and requires no pesticides or fertilizers.

The studies cited by Science and subsequent media reports underscore the importance of understanding all land-use changes taking place around the globe and the need to develop strategies that combat climate change. We believe that the issue of land-use change should be dealt with in all of its complexity, taking into account other factors, including the ongoing growth of the world's population, expanding demand for food resulting from improved incomes in developing countries, and urban sprawl.

Biofuels provide a much-needed and environmentally sounder alternative to petroleum fuels. As demand for liquid fuels continues to grow, petroleum resources, which are finite, continue to diminish. Efforts to develop new sources of oil, such as the tar sands in Canada, can only be expected to generate their own high levels of climate change pollutants. Meanwhile, EPA says using cellulosic ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90 percent. Developing new sources of renewable fuels is a far better alternative to trying to squeeze petroleum from a depleting resource of fossil fuels at a demonstrably appalling environmental cost. Ethanol and second generation biofuels remain the only fuel options available that address our need to enhance our national security and improve our environment.

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