How not to produce biofuels

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Now the Bush administration has woken up to the fact it has to reduce its dependence on oil (probably due to the geopolitical scene in the Middle East rather than a concern for climate change … but never mind), it has become very gung ho about biofuel generated from corn. As this BBC news report (RealPlayer required) points out, however, this creates new problems. While corn has been grown in the midwest for generations, the farmers are currently rubbing their hands together with glee as corn prices have doubled recently on account of the heightened demand. Naturally enough, they are planting more to take advantage of the new market conditions but this means less land to grow other stuff. In short, switching to biofuels is likely to raise the price of agricultural produce. This is likely to be a challenge for local politicians in time as their constituents protest about food prices. More worrying is what impact the new enthusiasm for producing biofuels will have in less developed countries. The answer may be second generation biofuels, which allows energy to be generated from waste (e.g. straw, wood, plastic bags and even human sewage) rather than the virgin product.