WorldChanging: do biofuels do more harm than good?

WorldChanging has a good round-up of anti-biofuel literature here. I looked into getting a biodiesel car last year but eventually decided that biodiesel wasn’t actually preferable to petroleum. Currently, I have no car and would prefer to keep it that way, but if I think if you must drive, it’s better to focus on getting a car with very good gas mileage rather than trying to get something that runs on biodiesel or ethanol.

Perhaps the most promising area of future biofuel development is algae for biofuel. Currently it costs too much, but if someone can figure out how to get the costs down (industrial production in giant vats?) it could work.

It was encouraging to see some open mindedness about nuclear energy from WorldChanging as well:

Sure, the mining, refining and shipping of uranium means that it’s not really a carbon-free technology. And sure, some nuclear plants are finding it hard to keep running, because the rivers they use to cool their reactors are getting too warm during the increasingly hotter summer months.

But at least these are problems we know about, whereas biofuels are suddenly looking like a jack-in-the-box of unpleasant surprises, ranging from higher food prices to ecosystem destruction to an actual worsening of the greenhouse gas emissions problem. I have been staunchly anti-nuclear for all of my adult life; but even I am beginning to scratch my head and wonder whether shutting down Sweden’s nuclear power plants — which the country originally committed to doing by 2010 — is such a good idea just now.

See what Stewart Brand had to say about nuclear here.

(For the record I’m highly skeptical about nuclear, but I do think it should be considered, especially as the risks involved are more and more mediated).


  1. In what way is nuclear anything like sustainable? Is this not just another easily depletable dig it up from the ground and then it’s gone resource?

    How many years of nuclear energy does this planet have given anticipated rates of demand growth?

    Aside from the other “easily mediated” problems 😛

  2. I’m far from an expert on the matter, but basically what makes nuclear energy potentially more sustainable than, say biofuels, is the “return on investment” – the number of watts of electricity gained from mining, processing, etc. We’re no there yet, and we may do better with algae based biofuels. But there is the possibility.

    And I never said the problems would be “easily mediated,” but that “more and more mediated” as time goes on.

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