A recent piece in Science News, titled “The Biofuel Future,” gave a pretty comprehensive look at various aspects of the industry. Rachel Ehrenberg, the author, examined how biofuels are developed, the environmental costs associated with the technology, and current progress in the field. The article is well balanced, and, to an even greater extent than reporters that covered Joule Biotechnologies, Ehrenberg drove home the need for skepticism:
The only way that biofuels will add up is if they produce more energy than it takes to make them. Yet, depending on the crops and the logistics of production, some analyses suggest that it may take more energy to make these fuels than they will provide. And if growing biofuels creates the same environmental problems that plague much of large-scale agriculture, then air and water quality might not really improve. Prized ecosystems such as rain forests, wetlands and savannas could be destroyed to grow crops. Biofuels done badly, scientists say, could go very, very wrong.
One day, we hope, biofuels or some other Jetson-esque technology will become the norm for our green-friendly cars, trucks, and SUVs. But until then, reporters must continue to push beyond bold claims that every biofuel start-up is the one and only solution to our oil dependence. Journalists should go further than merely questioning these companies’ funding or technological plausibility. They should also provide some idea as to how much of an impact the technology will make, and whether it really will save the earth, like most of the companies claim. The NAS is asking policymakers to take a look at biofuel efficiency. We’re asking reporters to do the same.