Scientific community called to resolve debate on ‘net energy’

Net energy is a (mostly) irrelevant, misleading and dangerous metric,” says Professor Bruce Dale, editor-in-chief of Biofuels, Bioresources and Biorefining (Biofpr) in the latest issue of the journal.

Net energy is a metric by which some scientists attempt to assess the sustainability and ability of alternative fuels to displace fossil fuel but recent debate in Biofpr shows that scientists are undecided on its merits as a tool.

Instead, in a series of corresponding articles clearly stating the case for and against net energy, Professor Dale calls for a more holistic approach which takes into consideration issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, petroleum displacement and economic growth, particularly in the developing world. He is calling on the scientific community to come together to help establish, once and for all, parameters by which to calculate fuel efficiency by using not just one, but several metrics that can be used in conjunction to give a fuller picture…

He adds: “Net energy is misleading because it does not give us the whole story of a fuel but instead asks us to make a judgement using a very small component of the decision making process, albeit an important piece of a large jigsaw. When trying to determine whether a fuel is viable or not, we not only need to consider energy in versus energy out but also the overall context such as petrol displacement, land usage and economic growth – this requires a balanced approach with several metrics.”

I admit to a not-especially-diplomatic approach to the question. Most of those grounding their opposition to one or another alternative energy source in “net energy” metrics – who aren’t entirely in the pocket of the fossil fuel extractors – fall into the equally tiresome category of green weenie. My term.

I’ll follow the discussion with interest.

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