Renewable Fuels – Feast or Famine

090819_Corn_0083W1rkRenewable fuels, those produced from renewable resources such as vegetable oils, ethanol and methanol, have gained popularity due to their sustainability, low contributions to the carbon cycle, and in some cases lower amounts of greenhouse gases. But while they sound great in theory, there is some concern that they might cause more problems than they solve. Researchers used to agree that farm-grown fuels would cut emissions, but they gave fuel crops credit for soaking up carbon while growing, not realizing that the fuel crops might displace vegetation that soaked even more carbon. The new crops of corn in the U.S. and palm oil in Europe have to have a place to grow, resulting in deforestation and other land-use changes.

One study found that it would take more than 400 years of biodiesel use to pay back the carbon emitted by directly clearing peat for palm oil in Indonesia. Indirect damage can be equally devastating because on a hungry planet, food crops that get diverted to fuel usually end up getting replaced somewhere. The grain it takes to fill an SUV tank with ethanol could feed a hungry person for a year, yet the U.S. has quintupled its ethanol production in a decade and plans to quintuple its biofuel production again in the next decade. This will mean more money for well-subsidized grain farmers, but also more malnutrition, more deforestation and more emissions. Deforestation accounts for 20% of global emissions and even if the U.S. switched its entire grain crop to ethanol, it would only replace one fifth of U.S. gasoline consumption. (


  • Wind farms currently produce enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 600,000 families in the U.S. and require an average wind speed of 14 miles per hour to convert wind energy into electricity. One wind turbine can produce enough electricity to power up to 300 homes. (
  • Nearly two in three Americans (63%) believe global warming is happening. Relatively few (16%) believe it is not. However, since fall 2012, the percentage of Americans who believe global warming is real has dropped 7 points to 63%, likely influenced by the relatively cold winter of 2012-13 compared to the prior year. (
  • Analyses of home-energy use reveal that we use more energy to heat our homes (an average of 41.7 million BTUs per household annually, at an average annual cost of $631 per household) than to cool them (7.8 million BTUs, at $276). (
  • Globally, buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 33% of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions. In the wealthier cities of the industrialized world, most of that energy is used by residential and commercial buildings for lighting and temperature control. (,
  • When asked about alternative energy policy, 79% of U.S. adults want requirements for better fuel efficiency, and 74% want more funding for alternative energy. (