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Sustainability 2015, 7(7), 8491-8521; doi:10.3390/su7078491

Are Biofuels an Effective and Viable Energy Strategy for Industrialized Societies? A Reasoned Overview of Potentials and Limits

Independent Consultant and Researcher on Multi-Criteria Farming and Food System Analysis, Agro-Energies, Environmental Issues, Treviso 30121, Italy
Academic Editor: Andrew Kusiak
Received: 7 April 2015 / Revised: 24 June 2015 / Accepted: 26 June 2015 / Published: 30 June 2015
(This article belongs to the Section Energy Sustainability)
View Full-Text   |   Download PDF [527 KB, uploaded 30 June 2015]   |  

Abstract

In this paper, I analyze the constraints that limit biomass from becoming an alternative, sustainable and efficient energy source, at least in relation to the current metabolism of developed countries. In order to be termed sustainable, the use of an energy source should be technically feasible, economically affordable and environmentally and socially viable, considering society as a whole. Above all, it should meet society’s “metabolic needs,” a fundamental issue that is overlooked in the mainstream biofuels narrative. The EROI (Energy Return on Investment) of biofuels reaches a few units, while the EROI of fossil fuels is 20–30 or higher and has a power density (W/m2) thousands of times higher than the best biofuels, such as sugarcane in Brazil. When metabolic approaches are used it becomes clear that biomass cannot represent an energy carrier able to meet the metabolism of industrialized societies. For our industrial society to rely on “sustainable biofuels” for an important fraction of its energy, most of the agricultural and non-agricultural land would need to be used for crops, and at the same time a radical cut to our pattern of energy consumption would need to be implemented, whilst also achieving a significant population reduction. View Full-Text
Keywords: biofuels; carbon debt; climate change; energy efficiency; environmental impact; EROI; food security; GHGs; power density; societal metabolism biofuels; carbon debt; climate change; energy efficiency; environmental impact; EROI; food security; GHGs; power density; societal metabolism
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. (CC BY 4.0).

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Gomiero, T. Are Biofuels an Effective and Viable Energy Strategy for Industrialized Societies? A Reasoned Overview of Potentials and Limits. Sustainability 2015, 7, 8491-8521.

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