Green Metrics Missing in Biofuel Debate

According to Jody Endres, College of Agricultural, Consumer & Environmental Sciences, and The Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of Illinois, and Daniel Szewczyk, academia has failed to create green metrics in measuring the pros and cons of biofuels. A framework to evaluate what constitutes a “green” economy is needed along with measurement metrics.

Endres and Szewczyk note that energy policies such as the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), E.U. Renewable Energy Directive (RED), and the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) require increasing amounts of biofuels to reach goals. When pointing out the benefits of biofuels, the White House touts the environmental, energy security and green economic benefits. In addition, supporters also say a biofuels economy “generates economic activity that preserves and enhances environmental quality while using natural resources more efficiently”.

Yet for the past several years a campaign against biofuels has been mounting, with the current drought across the U.S. fueling the food versus fuel debate to new levels.  Dissenters say that ethanol is causing the price of feed for livestock and poultry in particular to go up and many global associations accuse ethanol of causing food shortages. In light of this myriad of criticism, the biofuel industry is concerned they will lose Congressional and public support, which would be detrimental to the development of advanced biofuels.

Setting aside the arguments, the authors say that best hope in the battle for funding and biofuels’ public image is the potential for creating a green economy in rural America. The study of “greenness,” as opposed to only generic economic development, say the authors, is critical because “greenness” distinguishes and justifies bioenergy sector subsidies in an extreme climate of budget austerity and political polarity.

In response to bioenergy compliance, efforts are beginning to seek to measure the economic and social benefits of environmental improvements within the broader meaning of “bio” fuels. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of Defense (DOD) also appear to recognize the need to develop social impact metrics that tie to environmental achievements for project funding decisions. In the future, it is the hope that compliance will be in part measured by a biofuels’ green metrics.