Climate explained: could biofuels replace all fossil fuels in New Zealand?

Could biofuels replace all fossil fuels in New Zealand? What are the economic and climate benefits and costs of biofuels, compared to other low-carbon solutions, such as hydrogen?

Those questions are addressed by Professor Troy Baisden, from the University of Waikato, for Climate Explained, a collaboration embracing The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer questions about climate change.

Professor Baisden writes –

A quick look at the numbers suggests New Zealand would have enough land to produce biomass energy to replace the nation’s current fossil fuel use. But this doesn’t mean we have the technology or could do so economically — nor in ways driven by people’s choices.

The Climate Change Commission’s final advice to government, tabled last week, runs the numbers on costs, benefits and alternatives but has no realistic scenario suggesting a complete switch to biofuels would be feasible. After considering submissions, the commission found biofuels and other alternatives, including green hydrogen, could replace more fossil energy than its first estimates suggested. Continue reading

‘Keep off the grass’: The biofuel that could help us achieve net zero

The Miscanthus genus of grasses, commonly used to add movement and texture to gardens, could quickly become the first choice for biofuel production. A new study shows these grasses can be grown in lower agricultural grade conditions — such as marginal land — due to their remarkable resilience and photosynthetic capacity at low temperatures.

Miscanthus is a promising biofuel thanks to its high biomass yield and low input requirements, which means it can adapt to a wide range of climate zones and land types. It is seen as a viable commercial option for farmers but yields can come under threat from insufficient or excessive water supply, such as increasing winter floods or summer heat waves.

With very little known about its productivity in flooded and moisture-saturated soil conditions, researchers at the Earlham Institute in Norwich wanted to understand the differences in water-stress tolerance among Miscanthus species to guide genomics-assisted crop breeding. Continue reading

Research challenges US biofuels goals

The United States stands little to no chance of satisfying its current biofuel goals, if the climate continues to evolve as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to a new study by Rice University and the University of California at Davis.

The study has been published online in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology.

It suggests that in 40 years, a hotter planet would cut the yield of corn grown for ethanol in the US by an average of 7% while increasing the amount of irrigation necessary by 9%.

Continue reading