The Biofuels Conundrum

Science  27 Apr 2007:
Vol. 316, Issue 5824, pp. 515
DOI: 10.1126/science.1142978

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This story begins with good news, followed by a problem. Many governments around the world, and even some states within the United States, are finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A major step is the almost completed buyout of the giant Texas electric utility TXU by an improbable concatenation of big investors, environmental organizations, and bankers. This promising deal would kill 8 of 11 projected coal-fired power plants and require the others to meet environmental performance standards. That's like a 15th seed making the final four or Watford winning the FA Cup. Meanwhile, there is hopeful talk in Silicon Valley about "clean tech," and "biofuels" is the new entrepreneurial mantra there. But the problem is that limiting carbon emissions with biofuels like ethanol is complex terrain, and most proposals turn out to carry external costs.