U hosts conference on trade of biofuels

The conference brought in industry leaders and featured Costa Rican energy officials.

Alex Robinson

The fossil fuel industry is quickly changing since the introduction of biofuels, and now some University faculty have taken the biofuels discussion to a global scale.

The University hosted the Biofuels, Carbon and Trade conference yesterday at Coffman Union to promote the international use of renewable energy.

More than 100 students, faculty, fuel industry leaders and officials from Latin America brainstormed about how to more efficiently produce biofuels and improve trading practices.

Biofuels are energy produced from renewable resources, such as plant matter, vegetable oils and treated municipal and industrial wastes.

Ethanol is commonly used as a biofuel and while many point to ethanol as the answer to lower carbon emissions, others question its usefulness because ethanol production itself creates emissions.

Some economists say that since ethanol requires such a large supply of corn, and drives up the corn market, its costs don’t necessarily outweigh its benefits.

The conference featured Roberto Dobles Mora, minister of the environment and energy of Costa Rica, as a keynote speaker.

Dobles said that one of Costa Rica’s goals was to make sure biofuel production doesn’t drive up the cost of food.

He also said one of the environmental policies Costa Rica stresses is measuring carbon emissions and keeping accurate data.

“In God we trust, but everyone else must (measure),” Dobles said.

Conference co-chair Tim Smith said while there are discussions about biofuels every week, this conference was different because it incorporated trade with Latin American countries.

“We feel it’s very important to begin this discussion,” Smith said. “Very few people have begun this discussion, especially in the United States.”

Smith said it was important for the conference to be at the University because Minnesota is a major player in the biofuels arena.

More than 70 percent of biofuels produced worldwide come from the United States and Brazil. Minnesota contributes to this percentage by being one of the largest corn-based ethanol-producing states in the country.

The state is also setting strict policies to reduce future carbon emissions and the University could be very helpful in assisting the state with its low-emission goals, Smith said.

Co-Chairman Steve Kelley said it was fitting for the conference to be held on campus because of the University’s past work in biofuels.

“The University has been engaged in renewable fuels for several years now and this reinforces its leadership,” Kelley said.

Graduate student Dane McFarlane, who attended the conference, said the discussions changed some of his perspectives about the U.S. ethanol trade policy.

McFarlane said he now believes a free trade policy with Latin American countries would be more efficient.

Most students don’t completely understand the biofuels trade discussion McFarlane said.

“We get a lot of our information from the government and only hear about the debates between party lines,” McFarlane said. “Students should set their own sights.”