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Study: Biofuels not necessarily 'greener'

May 11, 2011 at 8:24 PM   |   Comments

BOSTON, May 11 (UPI) -- Conventional fossil fuels are sometimes more environmentally "green" than biofuels when the complete carbon footprint of each is examined, U.S. researchers say.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examined a trend in the aviation industry to utilize biofuels to combat soaring fuel prices and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Since Virgin Atlantic became the first commercial airline to fly a plane on a blend of biofuel and petroleum in 2008, Air New Zealand, Qatar Airways, Continental Airlines and others have flown biofuel test flights, with Lufthansa moving to be the first carrier to run daily flights on a biofuel blend, an MIT release reported Wednesday.

MIT researchers said the industry may want to make sure it has considered biofuels' complete carbon footprint before making an all-out move to the alternative fuel.

When a biofuel's origins are factored in -- for example, taking into account whether the fuel is made from palm oil grown in a clear-cut rainforest -- conventional fossil fuels may sometimes be the "greener" choice, they said.

"What we found was that technologies that look very promising could also result in high emissions, if done improperly," said James Hileman of MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics. "You can't simply say a biofuel is good or bad -- it depends on how it's produced and processed, and that's part of the debate that hasn't been brought forward."

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