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Biofuels: Their Negatives with Respect to Nitrogen
Erisman, J.W., van Grinsven, H., Leip, A., Mosier, A. and Bleeker, A. 2010. Nitrogen and biofuels: an overview of the current state of knowledge. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 86: 211-223.

The authors say "there is much discussion on the availability of different biomass sources for bioenergy application and on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to [emissions from] conventional fossil fuels," but that "there is much less discussion on the other effects of biomass, such as the acceleration of the nitrogen cycle through increased fertilizer use resulting in losses to the environment and additional emissions of oxidized nitrogen."

What was done
To bring us up to date on this important subject, Erisman et al. provide "an overview of the state of knowledge on nitrogen and biofuels," particularly as pertaining to several sustainability issues.

What was learned
The five researchers show, in their words, that "the contribution of N2O emissions from fertilizer production and application make the greenhouse gas balance for certain biofuels small positive or even negative for some crops compared to fossil fuels," because of the fact that "N2O is a 300 times more effective greenhouse gas than CO2," and because N2O emissions in the course of biofuel production "might be a factor 2-3 higher than estimated up until now from many field trials." In addition, they mention a number of other nitrogen-related environmental impacts of biofuel production, including modification of land for the growing of biofuels, wastes associated with biomass processing, and the "pollution entailed in constructing and maintaining equipment, transportation and storage facilities," as well as "the higher levels of eutrophication, acidification and ozone depletion" that are associated with biofuels due to the nitrogenous compounds that are released to the atmosphere during their agricultural production. And, of course, there are the potentially serious negative consequences of using precious land and water resources to produce biofuels, when they could instead be used to provide much-needed food and fiber for the world's still-expanding human population.

What it means
We need to look a lot deeper into the many potential negative side effects of the production and use of biofuels before we leap headlong into this purported panacea for the many CO2-induced-warming problems that have been conjured up by the world's climate alarmists, especially those side effects related to nitrogen, which may only make things worse than they already are on a number of different environmental fronts.

Reviewed 27 October 2010