Corn, soy and sugarcane come up short. The authors urge governments to be far more selective about which biofuels they support, as not all are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.
Because fossil fuels contribute to global warming and supplies are dwindling, more eco-friendly alternatives are required. However, biofuels may not be superior if their production results in environmental destruction, pollution and damage to human health, argue postdoctoral fellow Jörn Scharlemann and William Laurance, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
A new study by Zah et al., commissioned by the Swiss government, calculates the relative merits of 26 biofuels based on relative reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and an environmental-impact index, which includes damages to human health and ecosystems and natural resource depletion.
The Swiss study identifies striking differences in the environmental costs of different biofuels. Fuels made from U.S. corn, Brazilian soy and Malaysian palm oil may be worse overall than fossil fuels. The best alternatives include biofuels from residual products, such as recycled cooking oil and ethanol from grass or wood.
The Zah et al. study falls short in that it fails to consider secondary consequences of biofuels, such as rising food costs, but it is a big step forward in providing a way to compare the environmental benefits and costs of dozens of different biofuels.
“Different biofuels vary enormously in how eco-friendly they are,” said Laurance. “We need to be smart and promote the right biofuels, or we won’t be helping the environment much at all.”
Elisabeth King | EurekAlert!
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Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
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Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
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