National Geographic on biofuels

National Geographic Magazine has a good article on biofuels in the October issue. It's the cover story in the hard copy, and you can see the article online here. The article does a good job of covering the field in terms of feed stocks and technologies and makes the point that biofuels can either be very good or very bad for the environment. The cover of the magazine state: Growing Fuel, The Wrong Way, The Right Way.

Yours truly is quoted early in the article as follows:

"We can create ethanol in an incredibly dumb way," says Nathanael Greene, a senior researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But there are many pathways that get us a future full of wildlife, soil carbon, and across-the-board benefits." The key, Greene and others say, is to figure out how to make fuel from plant material other than food: cornstalks, prairie grasses, fast-growing trees, or even algae. That approach, combined with more efficient vehicles and communities, says Greene, "could eliminate our demand for gasoline by 2050."

My main complaint about the article is that while it covers the technologies well, it doesn't make enough of a point about the importance of policy. Whether biofuels end up being good or bad is a choice we have to make through our policies. (See this fact sheet for NRDC's prescription.) Even the way they've used my quote misses this point. The punch line to my point about dumb ways and many good paths is that we have to choose. And while I do believe that we need to diversify beyond food feedstock in order to be able to produce enough biofuels, lignocellulosic conversion is not a panacea; we still have to choose if we'll use that technology in a smart way or not.