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Study gives mixed review of ethanol

Mike Taugher, Knight Ridder via San Jose Mercury News
A new study claims to settle a decades-long dispute over the use of ethanol as a motor fuel, saying it can reduce dependence on foreign oil but does not yet provide significant environmental benefits.

The study, by UC Berkeley researchers and published today in the journal Science, says earlier studies were wrong to claim ethanol is an ineffective fuel because it takes too much petroleum to produce.

But it also said that ethanol made from corn — as is nearly all ethanol available today — would reduce greenhouse gas emissions only marginally.

“The long-standing debate over whether ethanol is good or bad on an energy basis … we believe that 20-year-old argument is now solved,” said one of the study’s authors, Dan Kammen, a professor at Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy.

“You can get more energy out,” he added. “What we don’t know is, is that good for the planet?”

Kammen said the real benefits from ethanol will come when it can be produced economically from switch grass, trees and other woody plants. Production of ethanol from those sources could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

…A leading critic of the ethanol industry defended his earlier studies and said the Science report was flawed by dismissing the energy required to build tractors, for example. “It’s another pro-ethanol paper. There’s several things I have problems with,” said David Pimentel, a professor of ecology and agricultural sciences at Cornell University.

“I still think (the energy balance) is slightly negative,” he said. In addition, Pimentel said corn uses more nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides than any other crop in the country.
(26 January 2006)
Another salvo in the ethanol debate. Related articles:
Ethanol can replace gasoline with significant energy savings, comparable impact on greenhouse gases (UC Berkeley press release)
Ethanol More Energy Efficient Than Thought, Study Says (National Geographic)
Study Finds Ethanol Offers Little Improvement (LA Times)
Environmental benefits of ethanol reported hazy (Contra Costa Times) same article
UC Berkeley Study: Corn Ethanol is Better than Gasoline, But Not by A Lot (Green Car Congress)

Compare the different headlines on essentially the same set of facts! -BA

The great Alberta oil rush

Peter Day, BBC
Canada is a modest and unassuming place when compared with its great big neighbour to the south. But now it has plenty to boast about: world-beating oil reserves in Alberta which are finally being brought into production after decades of talk.

Alberta is experiencing a huge and expensive oil rush, and Fort McMurray is at the centre of it.
(26 January 2006)

Your steel trash, China’s treasure

Steve Mackrell, Asia TImes
LONDON – There are basically only two sources of the iron needed to make steel: iron ore and scrap steel. It’s been well publicized that iron-ore prices have soared because of surging global steel production. Much less well known is the fact that scrap steel has seen a spectacular boom as well.

And the biggest reason for both run-ups? China, where the steel industry continues to power ahead, breaking all previous records.

Chinese steel production in 2005 was up a whopping 28%, at 348 million tons, coming on top of last year’s 23% increase and 22% the year before that. And it’s not only production records being broken – Chinese steel exports also soared to a new height in 2005 with more than 25 million tons, a staggering 55% increase on 2004. …

Just what is the role of recycled scrap steel in the steel industry? Simply stated, “old” reclaimed steel (that is, scrap) is a vital ingredient in the making of “new” steel, although the volume required depends on the steelmaking process used. …
(21 January 2006)

Sea energy ‘could help power UK’

Richard Black, BBC
Wave and tidal power can provide a fifth of the UK’s electricity needs, according to a new report. The Carbon Trust, which helps firms develop low-emission technologies, urges the government to increase support for wave and tidal concepts.

They are currently costly ways of generating electricity but the Trust’s report says prices will come down. Investment now could help Britain establish a global lead in these technologies, it says. In its 18-month research programme the Trust has looked at wave and tidal stream generation, leaving out other approaches to tidal power such as barrages which it describes as “mature”.

A barrage on the Rance estuary in northern France has been operating since the 1960s but the concept has been restricted by concerns over cost and local environmental impact. Wave-based devices generate electricity from movements of the sea surface, whereas tidal stream installations sit on the sea floor and use the regular ebb and flow of tides.

“Wave and tidal stream technologies are at an earlier stage of development than solar and wind which are more mature,” said the Carbon Trust’s programme engineer, John Callaghan. “It will cost more than other renewables for the first few hundred megawatts generated, but beyond that there is potential for costs to reduce,” he told the BBC News website. …
(24 January 2006)