This Week in Science

Biofuels & Climate Change

A group of preeminent academics put forward a policy proposal on regulating the development of cellulosic biofuels in the pages of Science magazine last week. They point out the urgent need to think about the unintended consequences of alternative fuels in order to achieve outcomes that are substantially better than “business as usual.” They conclude:

Legislated environmental performance standards for cellulosic ethanol production could, for example, go far towards promoting sustainable outcomes. Such standards could range from a prohibition of specific practices such as growing invasive species for feedstock or removing excessive annual crop residue to the provision of incentive payments based on avoided greenhouse gas emissions, both direct and indirect. We know enough today to begin formulating these standards, and both the industry and the environment will benefit from their early identification and refinement.”

There are many nongovernmental organizations already working to develop such standards. The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, for instance, has developed Version Zero of the RSB Principles and Criteria for sustainability, touching on every aspect of environmental and social responsibility. The Council on Sustainable Biomass is another group developing voluntary guidelines on sustainable biomass and biofuel production.

Companies that voluntarily adopt such standards pass them on to business partners. Claus Stig Pedersen of Novozymes describes how they work with business partners to maintain their principles.

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