April 14, 2024

Purdue biofuel study addresses concerns over deforestation

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The impacts of U.S. biofuel policy on deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia are found to be insignificant, according to the latest research from leading economic modeling experts from Purdue University.

The study looked at concerns from renewable fuel opponents claiming that biofuels are to blame for increased agricultural activity in Southeast Asia.

“Our analysis shows that less than 1% of the land cleared in Indonesia and Malaysia can be tied to U.S. biofuel production,” said Farzad Taheripour, a research associate professor in Purdue agricultural economics. “The amount is not significant.”

Previous analysis published by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and Argonne National Laboratory have quantified the benefits of using biodiesel in place of fossil fuel because of its significant reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases.

With a quantified reduction in carbon dioxide emissions between 50% and 86% lower than petroleum, biodiesel and renewable diesel are experiencing increased use under federal and state policies.

This new research also confirms there is no shortage of fats and oils used to make biodiesel. Nor is there a shortage of land in the United States for producing farm commodities.

“In the U.S, we have lots of unused land available to farmers who can convert it to corn or soybeans. There has been no need to cut forests here,” Taheripour said.

“In addition, crop productivity has increased significantly over time, providing more yield on the same amount of land. Because of those, the expected deforestation or conversion of natural land has not had to largely happen to account for U.S. biofuel production.”

Taheripour and the late Wally Tyner, who also contributed to this study, have been modeling environmental impacts of energy policy for over a decade.

Together, with various collaborators and researchers, they developed the GTAP-BIO model for CARB to quantify the market-mediated impacts of the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard and the national Renewable Fuel Standard. Those polices hold biofuels accountable for increased agricultural production predicted to occur all around the world.

“It doesn’t matter that this increased agricultural production is for producing food and not for producing biofuels,” said Don Scott, director of sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board.

“Biofuels are held responsible for the positive economic signals created by these policies. Biodiesel is the leading edge of the bioeconomy, and even renewable industries are held accountable for changes in net carbon emissions. Even with these penalties conservatively applied, biodiesel is still resoundingly better than petroleum from an environmental standpoint.”

The report, “U.S. Biofuel Production and Policy Implications for Land Use Changes in Malaysia and Indonesia,” was just published in the journal of Biotechnology for Biofuels.

The National Biodiesel Foundation holds a biennial workshop inviting experts and academic leaders to prioritize research that quantifies the sustainability impacts of biofuels. Through those forums, the foundation supported a portion of this work by Purdue University.

Significant funding for this research also came from the Federal Aviation Administration because the international airline industry is eager to identify fuels that have total carbon benefits, after including indirect impacts on global forests and land use change.

Made from an increasingly diverse mix of resources such as recycled cooking oil, soybean oil and animal fats, biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that can be used in existing diesel engines without modification. It is the nation’s first domestically produced, commercially available advanced biofuel.