April 25, 2007


California researchers propose Green Biofuels Index

Berkeley, California – A group of researchers at the University of California have proposed a biofuels rating system that would reflect the positive or negative environmental impacts of a particular fuel. A ratings system, the group says, would take into account all environmental aspects of biofuels processing and production, from the way the crops are tilled and fertilized to the kinds of energy, such as goal, natural gas or biomass, used to process them.

Such a system would not only help consumers make decisions, but stimulate competition among fuel producers to market the greenest fuels possible, driving the “less-green” ones out of the marketplace.

“We think it’s feasible to design a workable and effective ratings system for green biofuels today with the types of information that many farmers and many biofuel production facilities already collect,” says Alex Farrell, director of the campus’ Transportation Sustainability Research Center and a co-author of the study. “The American biofuels industry can produce much greener biofuels than they do today, and I think they can do so at reasonable prices and at a profit.”

Such a labelling system would reveal, for example, that ethanol varies widely in its environmental merit depending on its production history, according to study co-author Michael O’Hare. Some ethanol in current use is not much better, or is even worse for the environment than gasoline.

The study was partially supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Science Foundation’s Climate Decision Making Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

The report lays out a range of possible options for a Green Biofuels Index, from voluntary labelling to mandatory labels like today’s nutrition information, to more stringent government regulations. While the study discussed only environmental ratings, the co-authors said that such a system could likely incorporate ratings on other issues, such as social justice or workers’ rights.

“I think people understand that energy is a product that has lots of environmental implications, and if they had the choice to know what was good or bad, I bet they would like to know that,” Farrell says. “It’s quite likely that, even if it were required as part of regulation, fuel makers and distributors could develop their own brand and their own marketing strategies around how green their fuel is, using the type of information this will provide.”

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