Using biofuel instead of gasoline in cars is generally considered to cut carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to global warming, although some scientists say greenhouse gases released during the production of biofuel could offset those gains.
And new studies question the impact on water quality.
More scientists are looking at the entire corn-to-fuel life-cycle of ethanol production and trying to assess the impacts. Researchers at the National Research Council are concerned that growing more corn for ethanol production could harm local water quality, according to a new report released in October
“Agricultural shifts to growing corn and expanding biofuel crops into regions with little agriculture, especially dry areas, could change current irrigation practices and greatly increase pressure on water resources in many parts of the United States,” the committee said in its report. “The amount of rainfall and other hydroclimate conditions from region to region causes significant variations in the water requirement for the same crop.”
The report also urged big agriculture to adopt new technologies that can increase crop yield while conserving water and reducing negative environmental impacts, such as soil erosion and runoff pollution.“We must recognize that the current state of the U.S. agroecosystem is not sustainable,” said Entekhabi, an hydrologist who studies land-atmosphere processes and is director of MIT's Parsons Laboratory for Environmental Science and Engineering.
“The use of energy-intensive and industrially produced fertilizers and pesticides are finding their way into water and food supplies for humans and animals. Soil erosion and loss of soil fertility is continuing unabated. U.S. agriculture needs to shift to more ecologically sound and sustainable conditions.”