Aug 9, 2009

Bio Fuel Review

Conserv-A-Store says:

We feel much of the economic pain of the past 30 years has been caused by the horribly inefficient and unreliable supply and distribution of the oil and gas infrastructure around the world. The supply is largely in the hands of a few middle eastern based countries and most of the larger populations in the world such as Asia, the Americas, and Europe have small(compared to population) supplies of oil and gas. It's just a basic supply and demand issue that will never be resolved under the current make-up.

Alternatives just make sense if we do not want to spend the next 30 years going thru numerous booms and busts, and near world wars(often financed by the USA even though all countries benefit) to protect ever dwindling oil and gas supplies. Alternatives need to be multifarious in offering but biofuels will be a large part of the most affordable alternative and bio fuel crop bases can be grown and refined in many parts of the world, not just a few as with oil and gas.

We recently read this Ocotober 2007 issue from National Geographic entitled "Green Dreams" which is an in depth discussion of biofuels. We will use parts of it in the blog over the next few days.

Green Dreams

Making fuel from crops could be good for the
planet—after a breakthrough or two.

By Joel K. Bourne, Jr.
National Geographic Staff
Photograph by Robert Clark

When Dario Franchitti steered his sleek, 670-horsepower, orange-and-black Indy car to victory at this year's Indianapolis 500, the ebullient Scotsman chalked up an odd footnote in sports history. He became the first driver ever to win the iconic American auto race on pure ethanol—the gin-clear, high-octane corn hooch that supporters from midwestern farmers to high-ranking politicians hope will soon replace gasoline as America's favorite motor fuel.

Indy's switch back to the old bootlegger's friend is just one indicator of the mad rush to biofuels, homegrown gasoline and diesel substitutes made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane. Proponents say such renewable fuels could light a fire under our moribund rural economy, help extract us from our sticky dependence on the Middle East, and—best of all—cut our ballooning emissions of carbon dioxide. Unlike the ancient carbon unlocked by the burning of fossil fuels, which is driving up Earth's thermostat by the minute, the carbon in biofuels comes from the atmosphere, captured by plants during the growing season. In theory, burning a tank of ethanol could make driving even an Indy car carbon neutral.

The operative word is "could." Biofuels as currently rendered in the U.S. are doing great things for some farmers and for agricultural giants like Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, but little for the environment. 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.

The boom has already pushed corn prices to heights not seen in years, spurring U.S. growers to plant the largest crop since World War II. Around a fifth of the harvest will be brewed into ethanol—more than double the amount only five years ago. Yet such is the thirst for gasoline among SUV-loving Americans that even if we turned our entire corn and soybean crops into biofuels, they would replace just 12 percent of our gasoline and a paltry 6 percent of our diesel, while squeezing supplies of corn- and soy-fattened beef, pork, and poultry. Not to mention Corn Flakes.

Still, the prospect of amber waves of home-grown energy crops is too seductive to ignore, especially given the example of Brazil. Thirty years after launching a crash program to replace gasoline with ethanol from sugarcane, Brazil announced last year that thanks to ethanol and rising domestic oil production, it had weaned itself off imported oil. Investors, led by superstar CEOs Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic and Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems fame, have bought into the vision, sinking more than 70 billion dollars into renewable energy companies. The U.S. government has ponied up hefty ethanol subsidies, and President Bush has proposed over 200 million dollars for research, with a goal of replacing 15 percent of our projected gasoline use with ethanol and other fuels by 2017.

"We can create ethanol in an incredibly dumb way," says Nathanael Greene, a senior researcher with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But there are many pathways that get us a future full of wildlife, soil carbon, and across-the-board benefits." The key, Greene and others say, is to figure out how to make fuel from plant material other than food: cornstalks, prairie grasses, fast-growing trees, or even algae. That approach, combined with more efficient vehicles and communities, says Greene, "could eliminate our demand for gasoline by 2050."

A century ago, Henry Ford's first car ran on alcohol, while Rudolf Diesel fired his namesake engine with peanut oil. But both inventors soon discovered that "rock oil," when slightly refined, held far more bang per gallon than plant fuel, and was cheap to boot. Oil soon left plant fuels in the dust. Only in periods of scarcity—like the OPEC oil embargo of 1973—did the U.S. and other countries turn back to ethanol, mixing it into gasoline to stretch supplies.

It wasn't until 2000 that fuel alcohol staged a major comeback, largely as an additive in less polluting gasoline blends. For years, ethanol producers had enjoyed heavy subsidies and protective tariffs on imports, while Archer Daniels Midland, the largest U.S. ethanol producer, advocated mixing ethanol into motor fuel. But ethanol ran into stiff competition with the oil industry's own additive, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

Then MTBE, a suspected cancer agent, began turning up in aquifers, prompting many states to ban the chemical and suddenly creating a two-billion-gallon market for ethanol. Recently, with the Middle East in turmoil and oil security once again a hot issue, Congress gave the ethanol industry another boost, extending the tax credits and tariffs while requiring that 7.5 billion gallons (28 billion liters) of the nation's fuel come from ethanol or biodiesel by 2012. (That figure could rise to 60 billion gallons, 227 billion liters, by 2030 if some senators have their way.) The biofuels boom was on.

Ethanol enthusiasts point out that the oil industry has also reaped huge subsidies for decades, including billions of dollars a year in tax breaks, as well as tens of billions of dollars annually to defend oil fields in the Middle East—even before the war in Iraq. Not to mention the untallied costs to health and the environment of pollution from cars, trucks, and the oil industry itself. And while oil subsidies flow into the hands of the wealthiest companies in the world, ethanol subsidies are fueling a renaissance in small heartland towns with names like Wahoo, Nebraska.

No comments:

Post a Comment