NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Biofuels are a Bad Idea

May 12, 2014

Burning food for fuel is poor policy, argues Robert Bryce, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Vast amounts of land are required to produce biofuels, because biofuels have a very low power density, just 0.3 watts per square meter.

  • For comparison, solar panels have a density of 6 watts per square meter, and an oil well producing 10 barrels of oil each day has a power density of 27 watts per square meter.
  • If the U.S. wanted to replace all of its transportation oil with corn-based ethanol, it would need to plant 700 million acres worth of corn alone, covering 37 percent of the continental United States.
  • Soy biodiesel is even worse, requiring 3.2 billion acres of land -- one billion acres more than the size of the entire United States.

The problems with biofuels do not stop there. Not only does corn ethanol in gasoline increase pollutants, but it raises the price of food. When grain prices rose a whopping 140 percent between January 2002 and February 2008, biofuels were largely to blame.

Globally, biofuel production doubled from 2006 to 2011, up to 1.64 million barrels per day. But because ethanol contains less energy than oil, the actual energy produced by biofuels was the equivalent of 1.2 million barrels of oil per day. Global energy use from all sources, however, is equivalent to 250 million barrels of oil per day. That means, Bryce explains, that the world used 247 million acres of land to produce less than one-half of one percent of the world's energy.

In 2012, 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop was put towards ethanol production rather than food.

Source: Robert Bryce, "Biofuels Are a Bad Idea," Bloomberg, May 8, 2014.  


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