National Geographic’s Joel Bourne Jr. recently wrote a compelling article about the advancements (and blunders) American bio-fuel producers are making. Bourne explains how the eco-hype circulating about corn, soy and switchgrass-based fuels sounds pretty good to the SUV-loving John and Jane Does at first glance, but the methods used to extract all that “green” gas ain’t so green.

Corn requires large doses of herbicide and nitrogen fertilizer and can cause more soil erosion than any other crop. And producing corn ethanol consumes just about as much fossil fuel as the ethanol itself replaces. Biodiesel from soybeans fares only slightly better. Environmentalists also fear that rising prices for both crops will push farmers to plow up some 35 million acres (14 million hectares) of marginal farmland now set aside for soil and wildlife conservation, potentially releasing even more carbon bound in the fallow fields.

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