New study confirms biodiesel benefits overstated

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TORONTO, Ont. — In a letter to new Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky calling on her to reconsider the government’s plans to require the use of biodiesel, OTA President David Bradley cited a recent study by Dr. David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell University as further evidence that the environmental benefits of mandating the use of biodiesel are overstated.

In a study published this March in Natural Resources Research Dr. Pimentel and his colleague, Dr. Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, concluded that turning plants into fuel uses more fossil fuel energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates. The researchers considered such factors as the energy used in producing the crop, including production of pesticides and fertilizer, running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop, and in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix.

They found that biodiesel production using soybean required 27 per cent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced and that biodiesel production using sunflowers required 118 per cent more fossil energy than the biodiesel fuel produced.

According to Dr. Pimentel, “There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel. These [ethanol and biodiesel] strategies are not sustainable.” He went on to say, "Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation’s energy security, its agriculture, economy or the environment."

In his letter to Minister Dombrowsky, Bradley said, "Dr. Pimentel’s study is just the most recent in a significant body of credible studies regarding the use of biodiesel to conclude that there is no net environmental benefit from mandating biodiesel.”

Bradley concluded by saying, "At the same time, all market factors indicate that biodiesel will be more expensive than existing fuels. Given that there is no scientific basis supporting the environmental benefit of using biodiesel given the introduction of clean diesel and smog free engines beginning next year, we cannot accept the imposition of the potential cost burden for the trucking industry and the Ontario economy from mandating biodiesel."

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