" "
Satellite Banner
Technology
Networks
Scientific Communities
 
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article
  News
Return

Cleaner Energy, Warmer Climate?

Published: Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Last Updated: Tuesday, May 07, 2013
Bookmark and Share
MIT researchers explore the possible consequences of expanding biofuels.

The growing global demand for energy, combined with a need to reduce emissions and lessen the effects of climate change, has increased focus on cleaner energy sources. But what unintended consequences could these cleaner sources have on the changing climate?

Researchers at MIT now have some answers to that question, using biofuels as a test case. Their study, recently released in Geophysical Research Letters, found that land-use changes caused by a major ramp-up in biofuel crops — enough to meet about 10 percent of the world’s energy needs — could make some regions even warmer.

“Because all actions have consequences, it’s important to consider that even well-intentioned actions can have unintended negative consequences,” says Willow Hallgren, the lead author of the study and a research associate at MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. “It’s easy to look at a new, cleaner energy source, see how it will directly improve the climate, and stop there without ever considering all the ramifications. But when attempting to mitigate climate change, there’s more to consider than simply substituting out fossil fuels for a cleaner source of energy.”

Hallgren and her colleagues explored some of those consequences in considering two scenarios: one where more forests are cleared to grow biofuel crops, and one where forests are maintained and cropland productivity is intensified through the use of fertilizers and irrigation.

In both cases, the researchers found that at a global scale, greenhouse-gas emissions increase — in the form of more carbon dioxide when CO2-absorbing forests are cut, and in the form of more nitrous oxide from fertilizers when land use is intensified. But this global warming is counterbalanced when the additional cropland reflects more sunlight, causing some cooling. Additionally, an increase in biofuels would replace some fossil fuel-based energy sources, further countering the warming.

While the effects of large-scale expansion of biofuels seem to cancel each other out globally, the study does point to significant regional impacts — in some cases, far from where the biofuel crops are grown. In the tropics, for example, clearing of rainforests would likely dry the climate and cause warming, with the Amazon Basin and central Africa potentially warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This tropical warming is made worse with more deforestation, which also causes a release of carbon dioxide, further contributing to the warming of the planet. Meanwhile, Arctic regions might generally experience cooling caused by an increase in reflectivity from deforestation.

“Emphasizing changes not only globally, but also regionally, is vitally important when considering the impacts of future energy sources,” Hallgren says. “We’ve found the greatest impacts occur at a regional level.”

From these results, the researchers found that land-use policies that permit more extensive deforestation would have a larger impact on regional emissions and temperatures. Policies that protect forests would likely provide more tolerable future environmental conditions, especially in the tropics.

David McGuire, a professor of ecology at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, says these findings are important for those trying to implement mitigation policies.

“Hallgren et al. caution that society needs to further consider how biofuels policies influence ecosystem services to society, as understanding the full dimension of these effects should be taken into consideration before deciding on policies that lead to the implementation of biofuels programs,” McGuire says.

He adds that he finds Hallgren’s incorporation of reflectivity and energy feedbacks unique among studies on the climate impacts of biofuels.

Beyond the climate

While Hallgren focuses specifically on the climate implications of expanded use of biofuels, she admits there are many other possible consequences — such as impacts on food supplies and prices.

A group of her colleagues explored the economic side of biofuel expansion as part of a study released last year in Environmental Science & Technology — a paper that was recognized as that journal’s Best Policy Analysis Paper of 2012.

The team, led by Joint Program on Global Change co-director John Reilly, modeled feedbacks among the atmosphere, ecosystems and the global economy. They found that the combination of a carbon tax, incentives for reforestation and the addition of biofuels could nearly stabilize the climate by the end of the century; increased biofuels production alone could cut fossil-fuel use in half by 2100.

But just as Hallgren found trade-offs when she dug deeper, so did Reilly and his team of researchers.

“The environmental change avoided by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions is substantial and actually means less land used for crops,” Reilly says. This leads to substantial rises in food and forestry prices, he says, with food prices possibly rising by more than 80 percent.

Hallgren says, “There is clearly no one simple cause and effect when it comes to our climate. The impacts we see — both to the environment and the economy — from adding a large supply of biofuels to our energy system illustrate why it is so important to consider all factors so that we’ll know what we’re heading into before making a change.”


Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,900+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More Than 4,200+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters


Sign In



Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into TechnologyNetworks.com you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Living a “Mixotrophic” Lifestyle
Some tiny plankton may have big effect on ocean’s carbon storage.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Mapping Regulatory Elements
Systematically searching DNA for regulatory elements indicates limits of previous thinking
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Curing Disease by Repairing Faulty Genes
New delivery method boosts efficiency of CRISPR genome-editing system.
Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Living a “Mixotrophic” Lifestyle
Some tiny plankton may have big effect on ocean’s carbon storage.
Tuesday, February 02, 2016
Faster Drug Discovery?
Startup develops more cost-effective test for assessing how cells respond to chemicals.
Friday, January 29, 2016
No More Insulin Injections?
Encapsulated pancreatic cells offer possible new diabetes treatment.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
Engineering Foe into Friend
Bose Grant awardee Jacquin Niles aims to repurpose the malaria parasite for drug delivery.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Synthetic Antibody Detects Proteins
Research could lead to nanosensors that recognize fibrinogen, insulin, or other biomarkers.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Supply Chain
Chemists discover how a single enzyme maintains a cell’s pool of DNA building blocks.
Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Organ-on-a-Chip
In a step toward personalized drug testing, researchers coax human stem cells to form complex tissues.
Friday, January 08, 2016
Study Reveals Shared Behavior of Microbes And Electrons
Bacteria streaming through a lattice behave like electrons in a magnetic material.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Study Reveals Shared Behavior of Microbes and Electrons
Bacteria streaming through a lattice behave like electrons in a magnetic material.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Tracing a Cellular Family Tree
New technique allows tracking of gene expression over generations of cells as they specialize.
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
Global Reductions in Mercury Emissions Should Lead to Billions in Economic Benefits for U.S.
Benefits from international regulations may double those of domestic policy.
Monday, January 04, 2016
New Device Uses Carbon Nanotubes to Snag Molecules
Nanotube “forest” in a microfluidic channel may help detect rare proteins and viruses.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Scientific News
Breaking Cell Barriers with Retractable Protein Nanoneedles
Adapting a bacterial structure, institute researchers have developed protein actuators that can mechanically puncture cells.
Gene Signature could Lead to a New Way of Diagnosing Lyme Disease
Lyme disease patients had distinctive gene signatures that persisted for at least three weeks, even after they had taken the antibiotics.
Retractable Protein Nanoneedles
The ability to control the transfer of molecules through cellular membranes is an important function in synthetic biology; a new study from researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and Harvard Medical School (HMS) introduces a novel mechanical method for controlling release of molecules inside cells.
Leukemia’s Surroundings Key to its Growth
Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered that a type of cancer found primarily in children can grow only when signaled to do so by other nearby cells that are noncancerous.
Common Cell Transformed into Master Heart Cell
By genetically reprogramming the most common type of cell in mammalian connective tissue, researchers at the University of Wisconsin—Madison have generated master heart cells — primitive progenitors that form the developing heart.
‘Smelling’ Prostate Cancer
A research team from the University of Liverpool and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has reached an important milestone towards creating a urine diagnostic test for prostate cancer that could mean that invasive diagnostic procedures that men currently undergo eventually become a thing of the past.
Genetic Mutation that Prevents Diabetes Complications
The most significant complications of diabetes include diabetic retinal disease, or retinopathy, and diabetic kidney disease, or nephropathy. Both involve damaged capillaries.
A Crystal Clear View of Biomolecules
Fundamental discovery triggers paradigm shift in crystallography.
Could the Food we Eat Affect Our Genes?
Almost all of our genes may be influenced by the food we eat, according to new research.
NIH Seeks Research Applications to Study Zika in Pregnancy, Developing Fetus
Institute has announced that the new effort seeks to understand virus effect on reproduction and child development.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
 
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,900+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
4,200+ scientific videos
Close
Premium CrownJOIN TECHNOLOGY NETWORKS PREMIUM FOR FREE!