The environmentalist website, Mongabay, is reporting an analysis in Science of a Swiss government-funded study that finds the environmental effects of leading bioenergy crops including corn, soy and palm oil may be worse than those of fossil fuels. The scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute also note that the Swiss study does not take into account the effects of biofuels on food prices which could make their effects even worse than reported. According to Mongabay:
Biofuels made from world's dominant energy crops—including corn, soy, and oil palm—may have worse environment impacts than conventional fossil fuels, reports a study published in the journal Science.
Analyzing recent findings from a Swiss government study on 26 types of transport biofuels, Jorn P. W. Scharlemann and William F. Laurance say that arguments in favor of some large-scale biofuels often fail to fully account for the environmental costs of production, including destruction of forests, emissions of trace greenhouse gases, and air pollution. Fuels derived from "residual products, such as biowaste or recycled cooking oil, as well as ethanol from grass or wood" may offer lower environmental costs, according to the authors.
One cautionary note: Biofuels Digest notes the Swiss government study was done by the Institute for Energy Research which has received funding from fossil fuel companies.
Instead of turning food into fuel, one technically elegant possibility is using algae to produce biodiesel by feeding it pollutants from sewage and power plants. One problem: at current estimates algae biodiesel costs $20 per gallon to produce.