It has taken just one year for the land-based biofuels (agrofuels) bubble to inflate and burst. In February 2007, the Ecologist was almost alone in pointing out that growing energy crops for car fuel was ecological nonsense; now the tide of academic studies showing that agrofuels are neither energy - nor carbon-efficient seems unstoppable.
‘This is the Indian dream!’ shouts Mohit, clutching a tattered plastic bag as he joins the impatient throng gathering at Hall A of the Auto Expo in New Delhi. Around us more than 100,000 Indians are aggressively jostling for space and a precious glimpse of the £1,200 Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car. It is a vehicle that, put simply, costs less than the optional DVD player on the new Lexus LX470 SUV.
This month shops in the UK will begin to phase out traditional tungsten bulbs as part of a government plan to replace them completely by 2011 and save 5m tonnes of carbon emissions a year. However the current crop of low energy light bulbs are coming under criticism for causing skin complaints and migraines, releasing Mercury into the environment on disposal and not being as energy efficient as new LED equivalents.
Each year, UK livestock produce some 60 million tonnes of collectable faeces. If left to run into water-courses or even spread on fields, this waste can lead to the same problems associated with excessive fertiliser use – algal blooms and aquatic life starved of oxygen.
Even among green campaigners, nuclear energy is quietly gaining ground as a potential solution to the impending energy crisis. However several issues – particularly those of raw materials, cost and waste – remain unaddressed within the mainstream of opinion.
There is much talk of the possibility of a future ‘hydrogen economy’, which will power all our vehicles and homes. It is important to remember that hydrogen is not an energy source; it is an energy carrier. To obtain hydrogen it must be split from either natural gas or water molecules. The former, most widely used, method not only requires energy but also gives off carbon dioxide (CO2) in the process. Hydrogen produced in this way requires more energy to make than will eventually be returned when it is used. It makes more sense from a climate perspective to burn the natural gas itself than to convert and re-convert it to hydrogen in this way.