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Published on October 20th, 2008 | by Ariel Schwartz


Alternative Fuels Could Deplete Water Supplies

October 20th, 2008 by  

A recent study from the University of Texas at Austin puts a wrench in the recent advancements of the biofuels world. According to researchers at the university, producing biofuels or hydrogen en masse may require the use of much more water than conventional petroleum-based fuels.

The researchers analyzed the amount of water withdrawn (consumed and returned to the source) and consumed (not returned to the source) per mile traveled by a car running on conventional petroleum, biofuels, hydrogen, and electricity.

The results of the study are unsettling— vehicles running on hydrogen and water produced with electricity withdraw 20 times more water and consume 5 times more water than vehicles using conventional petroleum. And biofuels derived from irrigated crops such as corn use up to 3 times more water per mile than conventional fuels.

Fortunately, not all fuels use quite as much water as irrigated crops. Non-irrigated biofuels and hydrogen derived from renewable sources use the same amount of water as petroluem.

So while alternative fuels are necessary today, it may be wise to hold off on mass production until non-irrigated biofuels are more common and a renewable energy infrastructure is in place. 

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About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.

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