Summary of Ecological Society of America Conference - Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels
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The Ecological Society of America Convenes Conference on the Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels
Biofuels, fuels derived from plants, are receiving much attention as a potential means of reducing dependence on fossil fuels and net emissions of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the major contributor to global warming. There are two primary kinds of biofuels. Ethanol is made from a variety of sources, including corn, sugar cane, and so-called cellulosic sources such as switchgrass, and can be mixed with gasoline or substituted for it in “flex-fuel” vehicles that can run on either fuel. Biodiesel, made from soybeans, palm oil, or oil-rich nuts, substitutes for diesel fuel, the primary fuel for many trucks, heavy equipment, and some cars.
Although production of biofuels is expanding rapidly in the United States and elsewhere, the environmental benefits and costs of the various sources have not been fully explored. For example, planting of corn, currently the largest source of ethanol in the U.S., can lead to increased use of fertilizers, early return of land in conservation programs to production, and the conversion of marginal lands to high-intensity cropping. All of these bring with them environmental problems associated with intensive farming: persistent pest insects and weeds, pollution of groundwater, greater irrigation demands, less wildlife diversity, and the release of more carbon dioxide.
Responding to such concerns requires that the sustainability of alternative biofuel production systems be assessed in order to develop profitable systems that can meet demand with the least amount of environmental damage. As a contribution to such an assessment, ESA convened a conference on “Ecological Dimensions of Biofuels” on March 10, 2008 in Washington, DC, bringing together a wide variety of experts in the biofuels arena. The conference addressed the various potential sources of biofuels —agriculture and grasslands, rangelands, forests, and municipal wastes — and encompassed private sector and socioeconomic perspectives. Speakers also discussed the development of sustainable biorefineries, the effects of biofuels development on land use and biodiversity, and the environmental consequences of a global-scale biofuels program. A concluding presentation addressed the links between ecological perspectives and public policy on biofuels. Speaker and poster presentations and the conference program are available at www.esa.org/biofuels.
Following the conference, ESA hosted a two-day invitation-only workshop exploring the issues raised in the conference and developing recommendations for future research. Workshop participants are developing a number of reports for both scientific journals and the public, which will be made available on the conference web site as they are completed.
Past year events:
|Sustainability standards | Sustainability initiatives (Better Sugarcane Initiative, Forest Stewardship Council, Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil)|
What is bioenergy? | Benefits/Risks | Who is doing what?