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(Audio) Biofuels: “laundering fossil fuels” – an interview with Tad Patzek

Politics of Food
A great introduction to the problems with biofuels is provided in this radio program featuring Tad Patzek, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley..

Through his research with David Pimental he’s found (although it’s not uncontroversial) that six times more energy is used to make ethanol from corn than the finished fuel actually contains.

Great interview, which covers the dilemma from a deeper perspective than one of pure net energy. It includes the characterisation that biofuels are a form of “laundering” fossil fuels.
(16 March 2006)

(Audio) Thermodynamics of the corn-ethanol biofuel cycle

The Watt
This radio program also features a discussion with Tad Patzek on ethanol.

Important reading:

(28 May 2006)
I suspect that no annual crop will give sufficient net energy yields to justify putting it into cars rather than human mouths. Methanol production from coppiced perennial tree crops, using sustainable forestry practices, looks like a far better option (as promoted by Barney Foran former Resource Futures Scientist at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and others), but only when combined with major lifestyle changes. The reasons being that woody biomass can be turned into fuel, rather than human quality food, trees can grown in lower quality soil conditions, places that do not compete for food production, and as trees are perennial the ground does not need to be tilled every year, nor the roots regrown. -AF

(Audio) Pimentel on organic agriculture
Lynn Gerry, Unwelcome Guests
David Pimentel of the Department of Environmental Sciences at Cornell University on soil erosion, water depletion, energy inputs, nutrient values and the performance of organic agriculture. This is an excellent interview – Lynn Gerry asks big questions to draw out the broader implications for the future of the planet in a low energy future. Pimental explains very clearly the importance of the nitrogen cycle, the value of topsoil, and his thoughts on whether or not non-industrial agriculture can feed the world. Interview starts 5 minutes into the second hour.

This episode of Unwelcome Guests also includes excellent presentations from Colin Campbell and Richard Heinberg from last year’s Fuelling the Future confence in Kinsale, Ireland.

If anyone would be willing to produce a transcript of the Pimentel interview it would be much appreciated, please email the eds. -AF
(23 April 2006)

The Dirty Truth About Green Fuel

Sasha Lilley, CorpWatch via Alternet
Agribusiness giants want to produce the ‘green fuel of the future’ with their dirty coal-fired power plants. The Bush administration is eager to help.

The town of Columbus, Nebraska, bills itself as a “City of Power and Progress.” If Archer Daniels Midland gets its way, that power will be partially generated by coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy. When burned, it emits carcinogenic pollutants and high levels of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Ironically this coal will be used to generate ethanol, a plant-based petroleum substitute that has been hyped by both environmentalists and President George Bush as the green fuel of the future. The agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is the largest U.S. producer of ethanol, which it makes by distilling corn. ADM also operates coal-fired plants at its company base in Decatur, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is currently adding another coal-powered facility at its Clinton, Iowa ethanol plant.

That’s not all. “[Ethanol] plants themselves — not even the part producing the energy — produce a lot of air pollution,” says Mike Ewall, director of the Energy Justice Network.
(7 June 2006)
It doesn’t seem inherent to me that ethanol production should be especially polluting, at least not when plant biomass from organic farming is the feedstock rather than coal. Byproducts from the process can be useful, some suitable for stockfeed. Stills might be designed to be solar thermal powered, however this might not suit the large scale industrial processes. However a fuel this precious might be better drunk than burnt up in an inefficient automobile. -AF