President Barack Obama and Energy Secretary Steve Chu are consistent in their message that when it comes to transportation fuels, carbon-neutral biofuels as an alternative to gasoline are coming. While the focus of a shift from gasoline to biofuels has been on global warming, such a shift could also impact human health. A grant from the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) has produced a novel and comprehensive "Life Cycle Impact Assessment" to measure the benefits on human health that might result from a switch to biofuels. Although there are a number of uncertainties that must be addressed for a more accurate picture, these early results show that a biofuel eliminating even 10-percent of current gasoline pollutant emissions would have a substantial impact on human health in this country, especially in urban areas.
"While the successful deployment of biofuels requires research to overcome technical barriers, there are other barriers that can often impose constraints more challenging than those related to technical feasibility, including constraints imposed by health risks," says Thomas McKone, an expert on health risk assessments who holds a joint appointment with Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division and the University of California Berkeley's School of Public Health. "Just think, if we had done a life cycle impact assessment on the human health effects of gasoline years ago we might not be in the situation we're facing today."
McKone is the co-leader of EBI's Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Decision-Making for Alternative Biofuels programs with Arpad Horvath, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley. At the recent 31st Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals, conducted by the Society for Industrial Microbiology and held in San Francisco, he described a biofuels Life Cycle Impact Assessment (LCIA) that he carried out in collaboration with Agnes Lobscheid, an environment
|Contact: Lynn Yarris|
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory