Friday, August 17, 2007

Oregon study questions biofuel benefits


CORVALLIS, Ore. -- A new study from Oregon State University shows that when it comes to reducing dependence on foreign oil, other methods, such as raising the gas tax, cost up to 28 times less than using biofuels.

“The potential is quite small and the cost is quite high,” said OSU professor William Jaeger a co-author of the study.

More: Read the report (PDF)

Researchers spent about a year looking into the cost effectiveness and viability of canola biodiesel, corn-based ethanol and wood-based ethanol. All three fuel types have significant short comings, according to Jaeger, and all three fuel types studied would not even provide one percent of the energy used in Oregon.

The study also found it costs significant amounts of energy to produce the biofuels. For every 10 units of corn-based ethanol energy, eight units of energy are used in producing the fuel. For canola-based biodiesel, for every 10 units of energy, six units of energy are required to make the biodiesel.

Watch the KGW report

OSU researchers also looked into the viability of an alternative fuel industry in Oregon. Jaeger said it is not possible for the state to grow its entire energy needs by using corn or canola.

Many biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are heavily subsidized. Jaeger said it is more costly to depend on those fuels as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Jaeger, an OSU professor of the department of agricultural and resource economics, said raising the gas tax is a proven way to reduce fuel consumption. Fuel economy standards can also help. “One mile per gallon increase in the fuel economy standards would do more towards energy independence than all three of these bio fuels put together,” said Jaeger.

This study was released just as Portland begins a push to encourage the use of more renewable energy.

Portland commissioner Randy Leonard is a supporter of canola-based biodiesel and pushed for a requirement for all services stations within the city limits to sell biodiesel. That requirement took effect August 15.

“We need to divorce ourselves from petroleum as quickly as we can,” said Leonard.

In October 2006 Leonard led a trip to Eastern Oregon to encourage farmers to grow more canola to help spark the fledgling biodisel industry.

While Leonard acknowledges some of the shortcomings of corn-based ethnanol, he remains a steadfast supporter of canola-based biodiesel. “Biodiesel by all accounts is a true alternative fuel that could be the future of America’s independence from getting petroleum products from getting imported in this country,” said Leonard.

However Jaeger said leaders “should look very carefully at the facts and keep in mind what our goals are and not be led to believe something is going to save the day in terms of energy independence.”

Jaeger said when the report was released he received many e-mails and telephone calls expressing dissatisfaction with his study. He said it was the state that asked for the research into alternative fuels and claims that no money from the oil industry funded this study.

“My agenda as an economist is to understand the facts and hope that a clear careful analysis will help policy makers make better decision,” said Jaeger.

Despite the different perspectives Jaeger and Leonard have on biofuels, both agree it is time to lessen dependence on foreign oil.

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