NY Times Notices That Using Food As Fuel Is Not The Best Of Ideas

by William Teach | April 7, 2011 9:00 am

Better really, really, really late than never: Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears[1]

The starchy cassava root has long been an important ingredient in everything from tapioca pudding and ice cream to paper and animal feed.

But last year, 98 percent of cassava chips exported from Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, went to just one place and almost all for one purpose: to China to make biofuel. Driven by new demand, Thai exports of cassava chips have increased nearly fourfold since 2008, and the price of cassava has roughly doubled.

Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream.

And for fuels that aren’t as powerful as petroleum based fuels, not too mention that a good chunk of food based biofuels use vast amounts of water to produce, tend to put out vast amounts of CO2 (in some cases, more than gasoline), cause vast forest and wildlife destruction (particularly in the case of palm oil), and, oh, here we go

But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability.

Who could have predicted that? Weird, eh?

To be sure, many factors help drive up the price of food, including bad weather that ruins crop yields and high oil prices that make transportation costly.

Wait, they’re using oil based fuels to transport the food based fuels?

Mr. Timmer said that the recent rise in oil prices was likely to increase the demand for biofuels.

Anyone else begging for biofuels? Granted, I would prefer a fuel source that is cleaner (and, again, I’m not referring to CO2 output, but actual pollutants), but, most are not ready for primetime. The gas station closest to me, which is on the way to work, uses up to 10% ethanol. I notice I get less MPG for the same money as a station near work, which doesn’t blend.

  1. Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/science/earth/07cassava.html?_r=2&src=twr

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