Do Biofuels Produce Less Carbon Emissions than Petroleum Fuels?

Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use (John M. DeCiccoDanielle Yuqiao Liu,   Joonghyeok HeoRashmi KrishnanAngelika KurthenLouise Wang, Climatic Change, Aug. 25, 2016)

Also discussed here: Biofuels increase, rather than decrease, heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions (ScienceDaily, Aug.25, 2016)

And here: Controversial study claims biofuels aren’t carbon neutral, says it’s much worse than gasoline (ZNE Science, Aug. 26, 2016)

Today we review research into the belief assumed by government policy to justify agricultural subsidies that  biofuels (mostly from corn and soy beans) which currently amounts to 14.6 B gallons/year (or 6% of emissions) offset carbon emissions using petroleum products. This belief is based on the supposition that emissions from biofuels balance carbon emissions by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis from the new crops. Results indicate that this additional carbon uptake is only 37% of the emissions from biofuels.  The conclusion reached is that the rising use of biofuels (which has tripled over the last 10 years) has resulted in net increase rather than a net decrease in carbon emissions.


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How Does a Low Carbon Future for Canada compare with Europe, the USA and Australia?

What low carbon futures might look like… (Ralph Torrie, Aug. 27, 2016)
Also discussed here: Low Carbon Energy Futures: A Review of National Scenarios (55 page pdf, Ralph D. Torrie, Tyler Bryant, Dale Marshall, Mitchell Beer, Blake Anderson, Ryan Kadowaki, and Johanne Whitmore, Technical Report, Trottier Energy Futures Project, Jan. 2013)

Today we review a report that compares low carbon future scenarios from 8 countries: 3 carbon resource rich (USA, Canada, Australia) and 5 European countries (Sweden Germany, France, Finland, UK). The common goal of the scenario was to lower carbon emissions by 80% from 1990 levels. Each country has its own approaches to the challenge from differing start points and so the scenarios differ as well although some similarities were noted including: decarbnization of the electricity supply, increased efficiency of fuels, a large supply of biofuels and electricity‘s share of the total energy  consumption grows over time.  Sweden has by far the lowest energy intensity because almost all of its electricity comes from nuclear, hydro and biomass- so that future reductions in carbon emissions comes from increased energy efficiency. Canada like Sweden  also generates energy from non-carbon sources but has larger inputs ofnon-renewable energy sources (natural gas, coal, oil) in its energy pie and so has further to go to reach 80% less carbon emissions. Over 50% reductions in carbon emissions in Canada and the USA is in transportation where the growth of electric vehicles is key.


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Which Countries Have the the Most and Least Sustainable Cities?

A Global Perspective on the Sustainable Performance of Urbanization (16 page pdf, Liyin Shen, Chenyang Shuai, Liudan Jiao, Yongtao Tan and Xiangnan Song, Sustainability, Aug. 11, 2016)

Today we review a comparison of 111 countries, according to how well they perform in urban sustainability, made up of indices of environmental, economic and social sustainability. The best overall performers are developed countries in Western Europe, the worst in Africa and Asia. It is notable that although Sweden is not the top performer in any one of the three indices, it is the best overall, signaling how well that country balances the three aspects.


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What Must Farmers do to Meet Emission Targets?

Reducing emissions from agriculture to meet the 2°C target (19 page pdf, E. Wollenberg, M. Richards, P. Smith, P. Havlík, M. Obersteiner, F.N. Tubiello, M. Herold, P. Gerber, S. Carter, A. Reisinger, D. van Vuuren, A. Dickie, H. Neufeldt, B.O. Sander, R. Wassmann, R. Sommer, J.E. Amonette, A. Falcucci, M. Herrero, C. Opio, R. Roman-Cuesta, E. Stehfest, H. Westhoek, I. Ortiz-Monasterio, T. Sapkota, M.C. Rufino, P.K. Thornton, L. Verchot, P.C. West, J.-F. Soussana, T. Baedeker, M. Sadler, S. Vermeulen, B.M. Campbell, Global Change Biology, May 17, 2016)

Also discussed here: New study sets climate target for agriculture (IIASA  News, May 17, 2016)

Today we review an assessment of approaches voluntarily proposed by 119 nations as Nationally Determined Contributions for COP21 in Paris to mitigate non CO2 emissions from the agricultural sector.  Currently available approaches would deliver as little as 21% of the mitigation required to meet the 2 Deg C goal by 2030. The authors call for a range of innovative methods including carbon pricing, sequestering soil carbon and shifting dietary patterns and breeding cattle to produce less methane. Although agriculture is rural, some cities such as Ottawa, Canada contain more farmland (40% of rural area or 300,000 acres) and so must face up to the challenges in reducing greenhouse gases in this sector, as well as in transportation and the heating and cooling of buildings- and make this part of  urban climate action plans.

cattle emissions

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Are Plug-In Hybrids the Best Option until Electric Cars Become More Common?

Going the Extra Mile – Intelligent Energy Management of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (6 page pdf, Kanok Boriboonsomsin, Guoyuan Wu, and Matthew Barth, ACCESS, University of California, May 2016)

Today we review some testing of energy management strategies to find the optimum use of the battery in a plug-in hybrid while minimizing the use of carbon fuel. This is in the context of the fact that electric cars are less than 1% of all cars in many parts of the USA and Canada and that in some regions of those countries (for example, California, Ontario, Quebec) electric power is produced from carbon free energy sources. Results indicate that if electric energy use is restricted to when the battery level is between 20 and 80% charged (such as in stop and go traffic or going downhill) then the fuel use is minimized.  Overall gasoline consumption can be reduced by between 9 and 14% over what a normal hybrid electric car would achieve which in turn is twice as efficient as car that uses only gasoline. This is true if the power used to charge the battery some from renewable energy (hydro or nuclear).

plug in hybrid diagram

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How Does Early Action to Cut Carbon Emissions Reduce Impacts from Climate Change?

Differential climate impacts for policy-relevant limits to global warming: the case of 1.5 _C and 2 _C (25 page pdf,Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, Tabea K. Lissner, Erich M. Fischer, Jan Wohland, Mahé Perrette, Antonius Golly, Joeri Rogelj, Katelin Childers, Jacob Schewe, Katja Frieler, Matthias Mengel, William Hare, and Michiel Schaeffer, Earth System Dynamics, Apr. 21, 2016)

Also discussed here: 1.5°C vs 2°C: Why half a degree matters (Newsletter, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Apr. 21, 2016)

Today we review research using scenarios with global climate models that show the difference in impacts from limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C or to 2.0 deg C by taking action to reduce carbon emissions and how quickly this is done. Many authoritative sources from COP 21 in Paris indicated that unless cuts of the order of 50% are taken within a decade (2025) that the 1.5 deg goal will be breached and unless the cuts reach 100% by 2050 that the 2 deg goal is probably unachievable. The paper examines the consequences of taking action too slowly or to a less than acceptable degree.

The impacts affect the length of heat waves (lasting 2 months more for 1.5C or 3 months for 2C), water availability, sea level rise, coral reefs and reduced crop yields. Perhaps the largest impact, sea level rise, has the largest implications because the processes involved in melting ice sheets are so large and slow moving. Once the Greenland ice sheet begins to breakdown, sea level rises of 5-7 m are inevitable over centuries with warming over 2C and will accelerate beyond 2100, while early action to limit warming to 1.5C would limit the sea level rise to 40 cm. Clearly policy makers at both the international and national/subnational levels need to step up to the challenge and soon.

2 deg climate impacts

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What are the Best Incentives to Buy an Electric Car?

Incentives for promoting Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) adoption in Norway (12 page pdf, Kristin Ystmark Bjerkan, Tom E. Nørbech, Marianne Elvsaas Nordtømme, Transportation Research Part d 43, ScienceDirect, Jan. 14, 2016)

Also discussed here: What are the most effective ways of promoting electric cars?  (Science for Environment Policy, European Commission, Apr. 22, 2016)

Today we review research on which incentives are the most effective in selling battery electric (BEV) cars based on a survey of Norwegians. The survey analysis considered low and high income levels, the differing impacts of reduced (or subsidized) cost at purchase to ongoing costs and benefits such as exemption from tolls. The typical Norwegian owner of an e-car is male, aged 36-55, high income, university education and living in the capital (Oslo). The single biggest factor was the initial purchase price (with discounts), followed by (exemptions from) congestion or road pricing, followed by free access to bus lanes. This supports the tactics used by governments in countries, such as Canada, in offering significant discounts for new e-car purchases and less emphasis on using exemptions from road tolls (even though road pricing is much less used and there are far fewer electric cars on the road in this country compared to Norway).

ecar incentives

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