A new study commissioned by the Swiss government, has suggested that though biofuels reduce more greenhouse gas emissions as compared to fossil fuels, they have to be chosen keeping their harmful consequences in mind.
The study calculates the relative merits of 26 biofuels based on relative reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions and an environmental-impact index, which includes damages to human health and ecosystems and natural resource depletion.
Because fossil fuels contribute to global warming and supplies are dwindling, more eco-friendly alternatives like biofuels are required.
But, according to the authors of the study, governments should be far more selective about which biofuels they support, as not all are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels.
"Biofuels may not be superior if their production results in environmental destruction, pollution and damage to human health," argue postdoctoral fellow Jörn Scharlemann and William Laurance, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Though the study falls short in that it fails to consider secondary consequences of biofuels, such as rising food costs, it is a big step forward in providing a way to compare the environmental benefits and costs of dozens of different biofuels.
It identifies striking differences in the environmental costs of different biofuels.
According to the study, fuels made from U.S. corn, Brazilian soy and Malaysian palm oil may be worse overall than fossil fuels.
The best alternatives include biofuels from residual products, such as recycled cooking oil and ethanol from grass or wood, it added.
"Different biofuels vary enormously in how eco-friendly they are," said Laurance. "We need to be smart and promote the right biofuels, or we won't be helping the environment much at all," he added.