Friday, September 22, 2006

Is ethanol the pollution solution?

By Heraclitus

A thoughtful piece at the BBC about "the dark side," or at least the problematic side, of biofuels. What I take from the article, more than anything, is that energy conservation has to be our priority, because we're not going to find any easy substitutes for the fossil fuels we consume in such enormous quantities lurking around the next corner.

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  • Yes we need to emphasize conservation and yes we need to invest in other renewables. Cellulosic ethanol, that is, ethanol derived from the woody part of the plant, is the wave of the future. It can be grown in assortmant of climates, does not require tilling (a source of pollution and habitat destruction) and, most importatnly, gets a very high return on energy investment. This metastudy from the NRDC sites returns of 4.4 to 6.6. And this is based on studies from as long ago as 1990. Many current estimates are higher.

    The diffiulty is that the converting cellulose to ethanol is more dificult than from sugars found in corn, but the technology is fast improving. Some of the $3 billion that Richard Branson is using to fight climate change is being invested in companies specializing in this technology.

    BTW, the scientist in that artiicle who points out that the grain we can use to fill a Range Rover tank could feed a person for a year is completley misleading. We have plenty of food in this world - we in the US pay farmer's NOT to grow food, for Christ's sake. The problem is one of distribution. Not one person is going to go hungry because because we're using grain to make biofuel

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:07 PM  

  • Anonymous, you're absolutely right that the argument about corn and such being better used to feed people than make fuel is nonsense. I noticed it, but still thought the article made an important point, and so linked to it. It's good to know that the ethanol situation may not be as bleak as the author suggested, but given how absurdly far behind we're lagging in attempts to combat climate change, I think energy conservation has to be pushed much, much harder by everyone.

    By Blogger ., at 5:58 PM  

  • Check this out from Salon's "How the World Works."

    The short: Ted Turner makes the case that biofuels can be a boon to developing countires.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:15 AM  

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