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Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt

Joseph Fargione, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, Peter Hawthorne www.sciencexpress.org , 7 February 2008

Abstract:

Increasing energy use, climate change, and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels make switching to lowcarbon fuels a high priority. Biofuels are a potential lowcarbon energy source, but whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food-based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a ‘biofuel carbon debt’ by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions these biofuels provide by displacing fossil fuels. In contrast, biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages.

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