Potential Bio-Energy Resources Are Plentiful in Florida - Let's Develop Them Right

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I recently presented at the 2009 Florida Farm to Fuel® Summit (airing on the Florida Channel this Thu, Aug 13 at 8 AM) with the message that bio-energy development - including biofuels and biomass,  which is potentially very abundant in the South and Florida - should happen only when benefiting four crucial aspects: (My colleague, Nathanael Greene, provides an excellent primer on these four principles here.)

(1) Energy Security

(2) Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(3) Biodiversity

(4) Sustainability of the Food Supply

Our message is not popular, especially among those who feel that our position sets too high of a standard for bio-energy producers to meet.   It is not our intent to be "against bio-energy development".  Instead, it's what science tells us - essentially concluding that the environmental trade-offs for significant bio-energy growth can easily come at a cost to any of the four aspects above.  

A recent paper published by Jason Evans and Matthew Cohen of the University of Florida School of Forest Resources and Conservation, titled, "Regional Water Resource Implications of Bioethanol Production in the Southeastern United States", models the land, water, and energy requirements that would be needed to meet the massive new biofuel production targets legislated by the 100+ billion gallon renewable fuel standard in the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) 2007.

This target implies an appropriation of regional primary production for dedicated feedstocks at scales that may dramatically affect water supply, exacerbate existing water quality challenges, and force undesirable environmental resource trade-offs. Using a comparative life cycle approach, we assess energy balances and water resource implications for four dedicated ethanol feedstocks - corn, sugarcane, sweet sorghum, and southern pine - in two southeastern states, Florida and Georgia, which are a presumed epicenter for future biofuel production. . . .

Utilization of existing waste biomass sources may ameliorate these effects, but does not obviate the need for dedicated primary feedstock production. Careful scrutiny of environmental trade-offs is necessary before embracing aggressive ethanol production mandates.

Granted, it's fair to say that not all of the 100 billion gallons will be produced in Florida; but it is reasonable to conclude that with the nearly year-long growing season of Florida's climate, a significant portion of the feedstock for biofuel production could be developed in this state.

Understanding and backing clear scientific evidence of the environmental impacts of bio-energy production is our reason for being deeply engaged in its development today.  In developing this important domestic energy resource, we can't afford to compromise our planet's imperiled biodiversity,  increase global warming pollution and limit the resources within our globally interconnected food supply.