Biofuels are not ecologically or climate-wise friendly

Keskiviikko 24.1.2024 klo 13.39 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Burning causes carbon dioxide emissions. In the case of biofuels, the amount of carbon dioxide produced is actually higher than for fossil fuels. The claim that biofuels are climate-friendly is based on thinking that the produced carbon dioxide is taken up relatively rapidly by the plants used for further production of biofuels, i.e. the net emission of carbon dioxide can be zero, if the plants grown for  biofuels consume use up the carbon dioxide for oxygen production at the same rate as it is produced. However, this misses the point that burning causes carbon dioxide emissions, and any such emissions contribute to climate change. One could, and in my opinion should, decouple the plant growth, which is a carbon sink, and burning of plant products such as biofuels, which is a carbon dioxide emitter. One can grow plants without burning them.

Biofuels are produced especially using oil plants such as oil palm. Also other plants, such as maize and sugar cane are important sources of biofuels. Typically biofuels are produced by rich countries, often from plants grown in poor areas instead of food crops needed for the local population. This is true, e.g., for oil palm, which has got a really bad reputation. However, the bad reputation should not be warranted, if the palm oil were not used for biofuels but only for food oil. This would markedly reduce the need of agricultural land for oil plants, since oil palms produce at least 5-10 the amount of oil per unit area as other oil plants. Thus, if food oil production worldwide changed towards palm oil, decreased area of agricultural land were needed and more (tropical) forests could be saved (as soybean is one of the most important oil plants in use). So, ecologically, the important thing would not be to stop growing oil palms but stop producing biofuels made using them.

In addition to plants, food waste is a major source of biofuels. In my opinion, food and other wastes are good materials for thermal power plants, as then all the produced small particles and even carbon dioxide can be taken up by collectors inserted in chimneys. However, the carbon dioxide in car, truck, ship and plane exhausts will inevitably contribute to world’s carbon dioxide load. Further, in the case of food waste-based biofuel the link between carbon sink and source is more difficult to establish than for plant-based biofuel. In this case only the carbon dioxide produced in the burning process can reliably be established.

In conclusion, I do not think that biofuels are either ecologically or climatewise a sustainable solution. Instead, we should use cars and planes less, use e-meetings when we find them useful. Doing this we could easily diminish our need for biofuels for the short transition period from petrol- or diesel oil-using engines to more sustainable ones.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, palm oil, carbon dioxide emission, sustainability, oil plants, food waste

Forest Fires of the Arctic - as Big Problem as Amazonian Forest Fires

Maanantai 22.8.2022 klo 17.34 - Mikko Nikinmaa

When people are talking about the role of forest fires in climate change, the talk is almost invariably restricted to destruction of Amazonas and other major rain forest areas. Without doubt the problem of Amazonian deforestation is highly important as it has been estimated that if more than 20 % of the rainforest area disappeared, the rainforest would start turning into savannah. Amazonas has already lost more than 15 % of the forest area. For the world’s carbon dioxide balance this is a huge threat, as savannah is a much weaker carbon dioxide sink than rain forest.

However, wildfires elsewhere can be as big a problem to the earth’s well-being as fires in rain forests. To give an idea of the overall problem of wildfires, the estimated carbon dioxide release in 2022 already exceeds the yearly carbon dioxide emissions of European Union. Thus, small reductions in anthropogenic emissions cannot compensate for the forest fires.

The Arctic forest fires cause many additional problems. The magnitude of forest fires in the Arctic areas has tripled in the last 50 years. The first immediate problem is naturally the carbon dioxide given up in the burning forest. Luckily, much of the carbon dioxide is quite rapidly taken up by regrowth. Much worse problem of the Arctic wildfires is that the permafrost starts to melt. It is estimated that about twice the amount of carbon as is currently present in atmosphere is currently stored below permafrost, mainly as natural gas. Imagine if that becomes liberated via the craters developed by the melting permafrost – such a catastrophe is not included even in the most pessimistic climate models.

In comparison to the liberation of natural gas the other problems associated with wildfires may be considered small but are still serious. For salmonids migrating up the rivers to spawn, the fires cause problems liberating significant amount of nutrients and muddying the water. Consequently, the oxygen level of the water decreases, and the bottom becomes unsuitable for egg development. This, together with increased water temperature may wipe out the populations of salmonids altogether. Lichens, which are an important food item for deer (such as reindeer and caribou) may take up to 50 years to recover from burning. Similarly, cranberries and blueberries can rapidly grow back from roots, if only the above-ground part of the plant burns. However, if the fire is so severe that also the roots burn, the recovery is slow, as seeds must come from elsewhere to replace earlier growth. Losses of plants and animals can also otherwise be replaced only slowly, so that since the biodiversity of Arctic areas is low, it will remain extremely low in burnt areas for many years after fires.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, natural gas, carbon dioxide emissions, heat waves

Did you know?

Perjantai 12.8.2022 klo 10.08 - Mikko Nikinmaa

The carbon dioxide emissions from wildfires in the northern hemisphere in 2022 already exceed the emissions of the whole European Union.

The highest temperature measured (“in shade”) in 2022 is 63 degrees Celsius.

The carbon dioxide emissions per person are highest in oil-producing small Arab countries, tightly followed by Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, Estonia and USA. The emissions by an average American are approximately double of that of and average Chinese. An average European’s emissions are currently slightly above an average Chinese, but whereas the emissions by Europeans are decreasing, those of Chinese are increasing. An average Russian emits much more carbon dioxide than Europeans, being in the middle between Chinese and Americans. Within Europe, an average Finn emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide as an average Swede. Currently, an Indian emits about 15 % of the emissions of an American, and an African only 5 %.

Humans are using more than half of all habitable land to either agriculture, roads or habitation. Forests make up ca. 35 % of habitable land, and a large part is subject to human activities, so one can estimate that currently less than 20 % of all habitable land is free from human use. Out of the agricultural land use, 75-80 % is used for livestock (either directly or to produce fodder).

Virtually all seas are overfished. The present aquacultural practices do not decrease overfishing, as most of the feed for the cultivated preferred species is obtained by catching and processing less valuable species.

The sea ice extent in Antarctica has been the lowest ever throughout 2022 and also in Arctic much less than the long-time average. While the Arctic temperatures in 2022 are generally much higher than the long-time average, the area between Alaska and Eastern Siberia makes a notable exception as it has been very cold there.

The world’s glaciers have lost more than 25 meters of ice by 2022 relative to the situation in 1970. Since the water from glaciers is the primary water source in many areas, and glaciers have melted, the water availability decreases.

In England, July was driest after 1935. Lake Mead (the most important reservoir in Colorado river) is drying up. In other places deadly floods occur (Kentucky, South Korea)

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, water availability, land use, carbon dioxide emissions

Climate Change and US Supreme Court

Maanantai 20.6.2022 klo 15.16 - Mikko Nikinmaa

President Trump was able to nominate three Supreme Court judges during his presidency. This changed the Court to a significantly more conservative direction than earlier. This is now seen in the likelihood that the Roe vs. Wade decision from 1973 guaranteeing abortion right to women throughout USA will be overturned.

But maybe even more terrible to the world is the West Virginia vs. EPA case, which the conservative Supreme Court judges likely decide in favour of West Virginia. That decision would mean that EPA would not be allowed to limit the carbon dioxide emissions of power plants. This would effectively mean that USA will not be able to combat climate change unless coal and oil industry wishes.

In addition to this, there are several lower court cases, which would, e.g., limit the possibility of federal government to restrict carbon dioxide emissions of traffic or require that electricity production shifts from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Altogether the conservative court cases may mean that the worst producer of greenhouse gases will not be able to carry out any meaningful actions in combatting climate change. Ironically, the conservative circles are working against any climate actions at the same time that the temperature in almost every part of USA has increased to highest level ever. And it is only mid-June. But, according to conservative circles, there is no connection between burning of fossil fuels and heat waves. Or is there?

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: global warming, fossil fuels, EPA, carbon dioxide emissions