Sunday, December 05, 2010

Gassed by ethanol

If Greens want to start making changes, especially as regards green house gas emissions, one way is to pop the corn lobby out of Washington. There are two distinct, but related issues we need to fight: subsidies for commodity crops including corn and renewable fuels standards that mandate the use of ethanol.

Most ethanol is manufactured from corn. That process is neither economic nor ecologically sound. It takes too much water and energy to produce the ethanol for the benefit received.

Most of you probably did not realize that ethanol was such an issue in California, but industry is at work lining their pockets with yet another bad idea. Haven't you heard of the California Ethanol Vehicle Coalition? Now, they even have announced a partnership between NASCAR and American Ethanol, all for the promotion of ethanol as a "healthy fuel."

Note, the featured photo is of the President of the National Corn Growers Association. This is very good. We subsidize corn production and then mandate the use of 45 cents/gal. subsidized corn based ethanol in our fuels. It would be a humorous sidelight of Washington Politics if it were not that Energy Secretary Chu has a very different opinion.
“Ethanol is not an ideal transportation fuel,” Chu said during a question-and-answer session at the National Press Club. Chu said synthetic fuels don’t require the specialized infrastructure, such as pumps and pipelines, that are needed for ethanol.
Green need to support policies that end both commodity crop subsidies and the support of dead-ended technologies.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Hello Wes. Good to see you are back blogging.

I think we should separate the issue of ethanol as a viable fuel from corn as a viable input to make ethanol. Hydrous ethanol (not anhydrous ethanol) is a fantastic fuel with better emissions numbers than gasoline -- even NOx! Flex fuel vehicles can use it now.

You point about the idea of using corn as the raw material to make ethanol is right on the money. Corn for ethanol is a joke. However, Jerusalem Artichoke is not. Even better yet is applying the Fischer-Tropsch process to syngas to make it (or diesel).

The beauty of syngas to liquid fuels is two fold. First, the gasification process uses biomass -- such as fast growing and energy dense Eucalyptus -- as the input. Second, the gasification process also creates biochar.

Biochar returned to the soil is not only an excellent organic soil improver (think Amazonian terra prieta), but also is an excellent method of sequestering the carbon! When done right, this is one of our best hopes in combating global warming by utilizing a carbon-negative (not carbon-neutral) energy production method!

Of course, all of the usual reasons for conservation and increases in fuel efficiency go without saying.