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Study Criticizes Converting Cleared Farmland to Biofuel

A study released Thursday said converting land to biofuel crops worsens global warming by increasing carbon emissions.

Biofuel industry officials and an Arkansas producer reacted to the study by saying the industry is shifting away from food-stock fuel sources like soybeans toward algae and animal fats.

"Nothing drives innovation like need," said Jenna Higgins, spokesman for the National Biodiesel Board in Columbia, Mo.

New technology and alternate sources of biofuel - such as algae and animal fats - could be the industry's future, she said.

Speculation and farmers switching crops from soybeans to corn in other parts of the country have sharply increased soybean prices, she said, making it less preferable as a biofuel.

The study, funded by the Nature Conservancy and posted online by Science magazine, concludes that cutting down rain forests or tilling grasslands to grow crops to be used for biofuels releases carbon into the atmosphere.

The carbon is released from clearing the land: Some of it from the burning of brush and trees; the rest through the tilling of soil or as organic waste from the cleared land slowly decays.

Carbon released into the atmosphere - believed by many scientists to become greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming - outweighs any savings that occur when vehicles use biofuels in place of fossil fuels, the study concludes.

While Arkansas' biofuel crops, mostly soybeans, are grown on land cleared long ago, the study's lead scientist, Joe Fargione, said the state still plays a role in carbon emissions.

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