MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA As the United States and other nations commit to the path of biofuels production, a group of scientists is calling for sustainable practices in an industry that will, as MBL scientist Jerry Mellilo says, "reshape the Earth's landscape in a significant way."
In a paper published in the Oct. 3 issue of Science magazine, Melillo and 22 co-authors call for science-based policy in the emerging global biofuels industry, which by 2050 could command as much land as is currently farmed for food.
"The identification of unintended consequences early in the development of alternative fuel strategies will help to avoid costly mistakes and regrets about the effects on the environment," the authors write. Melillo is co-director of the Marine Biological Laboratory's (MBL) Ecosystems Center, and the other authors are environmental scientists, agronomists, and economists from numerous organizations in the United States and Brazil.
The biofuels industry in the United States has significant momentum, but no environmental performance standards are currently in place. In May, the 2008 Farm Bill was passed, which provides subsidies for growers of biofuels crops and for refiners who convert those crops to ethanol. Also, the U.S. Legislature approved a mandate in 2007 for the production of 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year by 2022.
"We have a lot of information that can help policy makers think through the long-term consequences of this kind of mandate," Melillo says. "We can help society avoid or at least reduce some of the negative consequences of the expansion of biofuels programs in the United States and around the world. Science can help all of us use renewable resources, such as biofuels, in a sustainable way."
The Farm Bill specifically subsidizes the production of "advanced" or cellulosic biofuels, which are biofuels, such as ethanol, derived by processing the complex organic molecule, cel
|Contact: Diana Kenney|
Marine Biological Laboratory