Jan 04, 2012— read in full
Are biofuels damaging to health?
US scientists have warned that biofuels could be more harmful to health than petrol, increasing deaths from respiratory problems and asthma attacks.
Biofuels is a term used to describe fuels like ethanol and diesel which are made from processing crops such as corn or sugarcane.
According to previous reports biofuels can cut the effect of carbon dioxide emissions on the environment and the EU has committed to using them in 10% of transport by 2020.
But an American study by Mark Jacobson, an atmospheric scientist at Stanford University
in California, found that biofuels may actually prove to be more harmful to human health than petrol.
Using a computer model, the researchers examined what the impact on air quality would be in 2020 if all vehicles were run on petrol compared to E85 – a mix of 85% ethanol and 15% petrol.
The results showed that E85 caused a rise in ozone (a pollutant which causes respiratory problems) in some areas of the US but this was offset by a decrease in others. It also showed that smog caused an extra 200 deaths, 120 of which would be in Los Angeles alone.
There would be 770 more visits to accident and emergency departments and an increase of 990 patients being treated in hospitals for asthma and respiratory problems.
"We found that using E85 will cause at least as much health damage as gasoline, which already causes about 10,000 premature deaths annually from ozone and particulate matter," said Jacobson.
He added: "The question is, if we're not getting any health benefits, then why continue to promote ethanol and other biofuels.
"By comparison, converting all vehicles to battery-electric, where the electricity is from wind energy would eliminate 10,000 air pollution deaths per year and 98% of carbon emissions from vehicles."
Stuart Shales, senior lecturer in environmental biotechnology at the University of the West of England, commented "The question I would ask is, has there been any respiratory problems in Brazil where ethanol has been used since the early 1970s?"