Biofuels Raise Beer Prices

German barley farmers switching to other crops

The cost of barley is rising – due to an suspecti8ng culprit; biofuels.

German farmers are slowly abandoning barley planting to plant other, subsidized crops for sale as environmentally-friendly biofuels..

In the last two years, the price of barley has doubled to 200 euros ($271) from 102 euros per ton as farmers plant more crops such as rapeseed and corn that can be turned into ethanol or bio-diesel, a fuel made from vegetable oil.

As a result, the price for barley has soared by more than 40%, to around 385 euros ($522) per ton from around 270 euros a ton two years ago, according to the Bavarian Brewers’ Association.

While some breweries have already raised prices, many others will follow later this year, brewers say.

Brewers predict that higher barley prices will add about 1 euro ($1.35) to each 10-liter case of beer, but the German Farmers Association disputes that, saying the figure is about 33 euro cents ($0.45). Other factors like higher salaries and energy prices are also jacking up prices.

The German government subsidizes biofuel crops at the rate of euro45 per hectare (US$24.60 per acre), according to the Agency for Renewable Energies, part of the Agriculture Ministry.

Barley production in Germany went down by 5.5% — from 542,000 hectares in 2006 to 514,000 hectares in 2007, according to the Bavarian Farmers Association. On the other hand, the production of corn for biofuel more than doubled last year and the production of rapeseed for biofuel grew by 3.4%.

Biofuels, which reduce the emission of greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming, have been seen by many as a cleaner and cheaper way to meet the world’s soaring energy needs than with greenhouse-gas emitting fossil fuels. European leaders have decided that at least 10% of fuels will come from biofuels by 2020.

Comments

  1. gitchegumee says

    I’ll take issue with biofuels being more environmentally friendly–or anything friendly for that matter. Burning any fuel creates greenhouse gases–biofuel is no exception. And I fail to see how cultivating, irrigating, applying poison & fertilizer, and processing this fuel is any more environmentally friendly than extracting oil from the earth. Let alone the fact that planting for these fuels is done at the expense of human food crops. Just look at Mexican tortilla prices that have soared beyond people’s means because the corn is now grown for fuel.

  2. jarviw says

    gitchegumee,

    the reason bio-fuel is better for green-house gases is because, the CO2 produce from burning it is directly from growing such plants (plants take up CO2 for photosynthesis); so instead of producing extra CO2 into the air, it’s merely “recycling the CO2”.

    However, you are right about the extra energy cost in producing bio-fuel. It is certainly not as clean as it may appear… it’s just cleaner than fossil fuel at this time.

  3. cphilbin says

    even with catalytic converters, combustion byproducts (like nitrates and sulfates) and hydrocarbon emissions are more toxic from petroleum-based fuels than from biofuels (i’ve read that the biodiesel-converted engines smell like french fries when they’re running). that being said, i still think that CO2 emissions are a problem for biofuels. even though their CO2 is “offset” by the CO2 absorbed by growing the plant (which would still be absorbing CO2 if it wasn’t cut down to produce biofuels) i would think the added energy costs in production would make it at least a wash. i don’t have hard numbers on this (i don’t think that anyone does yet), but the energy:carbon ratio is the most important thing (in terms of CO2).

    but i will agree it is probably “cleaner burning” and would probably at least improve air quality.

    reducing energy use is the best solution.

  4. Butcher Scott says

    The energy efficiency issue is a real one. Sure biofuels may have x% less CO2 emissions, but if it takes X times more to get the same energy output, then no improvement in CO2 emissions has been made.

    Additionally, CO2 is not the only negative by product of burning fuel. Particulate matter emissions in BioFuels have historically been higher than conventional on-road diesel (especially now that on-road diesel has dropped down to 500 ppm sulfur effective today).

    So, if BioFuels don’t save considerably on CO2 emissions, result in higher non-CO2 emissions, cost more directly, and have significant indirect costs (higher cost of food stuffs)… what exactly is the point of them again? Alternative fuels for the purposes of the environment and (dare I say) national security is a great goal, but not at the expense of basic economics. Alternative fuels for the sake of alternative fuels is just silly. Especially if it means beer price inflation. 🙂

  5. Butcher Scott says

    I guess I stand somewhat corrected on my statement about particulate matter… here are the results of a UC Davis study I found…

    http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library/UCDavisSumm.html

    Use of 100% desel fuel without a catalytic converter and under the condition of a hot start resulted in the highest quantities of PAHs measured per mile. The exception was for benzo(a)pyrene and perylene which had higher total masses per mile with the 100% REE and 50% REE blend than with the 100% diesel fuel. Under the conditions of a cold start without catalyst, emissions of fluoranthene and benzo(ghi)perylene from 100% REE were higher (pg / mile) than that from 100% diesel fuel, but pyrene was lower from the 100% REE fuel.

    For the catalyst-equipped engine, PAHs such as phenanthrene, fluoranthene, and pyrene remained at an approximately equivalent emission rate (g/mile) independent of the REE content in the fuel (ranging from 100% diesel to 100% REE). Further, in the catalyst-equipped engine, the more chemically reactive PAHs [for example, benzo(a)pyrene] were emitted at greater levels for the pure REE and some of the blended REE fuels than in emissions from 100% diesel fuel.

    For the bioassay analyses, a simple modification of the Salmonella/microsome test (called the microsuspension assay) was used throughout. Each filter half from each part of the EPA cycle (Pl and P2) was tested individually for genotoxicity (the potential to damage DNA). Three doses of each filter extract were tested in duplicate. The slope of the linear portion of the dose-response curve was used to determine the specific activity or potency of each extract. The emissions of mutagenic compounds, expressed as revertant equivalents per mile, were determined from this potency value and the total mass of particulate matter collected. For both the non-catalyst and catalyst-equipped engine, use of the 100% REE fuel produced in the lowest genotoxic (DNA-damaging) activity in the tests. Blended fuels in the non-catalyst-equipped engine produced less emissions than emissions than the 100% diesel fuel.

    For the catalyst-equipped engine, the highest emissions were from the cold start 100% diesel fuel when compared to any of the hot start samples. The next highest to the cold start 100% diesel fuel was the 20% REE/diesel blend, followed by either the 50% REE/diesel blend or the hot start 100% diesel. The use of the 100% REE fuel resulted in the lowest emissions compared to the REE blends and 100% diesel fuels.

    These pilot studies, differences in the total emission of genotoxic compounds from the catalyst-equipped engine compared to the non-catalyst- equipped engine are apparent. The catalyst-equipped engine in some cases had higher mass emissions (g/mile) of certain PAHs.

    FWIW, I’d be remiss not to mention that on-road diesel is much different today than it was in 1996, when this study was performed.