The work, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to an increasing body of research on corn-based fuels. Hopes are high, however, for the next generation of biofuels, which can be made from organic waste or plants grown on land not used for food-growing.
"The dialogue so far on biofuels has been pretty much focused on greenhouse gases alone," said David Tilman, one of the Minnesota researchers. "And yet we felt there were many other impacts that were positive or negative not being included. We wanted to expand the analysis from greenhouse gases to at least one other item and we chose health impacts."
The well-studied health problems caused by conventional fuels stem from soot particles and other pollution produced when they are burned. With biofuels, the problems are caused by particles given off during their growth and manufacture.
Health problems from biofuels and petrol include increased cases of heart disease, respiratory symptoms, asthma, chronic bronchitis or premature death. Society needed to make the transition away from corn-based ethanol to "the right biofuel" as soon as possible, Tilman said.
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