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Researchers look beyond biofuels as substitutes for fossil fuels

Libby Tucker, Associated Press via KGW
As biofuels gain momentum as viable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels in the Northwest, Oregon researchers are sounding a word of caution.

Biodiesel and ethanol are good short-term solutions to curbing the nation’s oil addiction, but they are not sustainable over the long haul, they say.

Biofuels could provide 37 percent of U.S. transport fuel within the next 25 years, according to a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group.

But growth of crops such as corn and soybeans — traditional feedstocks — for biofuels production is energy- and water-intensive. And with limited farmlands available, feedstock production for fuel would have to supplant food production.

“There’s never going to be enough cropland to replace all the petroleum we use” with biofuels, said Jan Auyong, an Oregon State University professor.

In response, Oregon researchers, business leaders, and state officials submitted a proposal for the formation of the Oregon Clean Energy Center for research.

The proposed center would centralize efforts under way around the state to develop substitutes for fossil fuel-based materials used in building products and transportation.

“I’m worried that people are promoting biodiesel without really looking at the life cycle costs,” said Gail Achterman, a commissioner with the Oregon Transportation Commission and a key author of the proposal. “I doubt that people will feel good about replacing foreign imported (petroleum) oil with imported palm oil.”
(18 June 2006)

Ethanol’s water demands a concern

JIM PAUL, Yahoo! News
City officials in Champaign and Urbana took notice when they heard that an ethanol plant proposed nearby would use about 2 million gallons of water per day, most likely from the aquifer that also supplies both cities.

“There was concern about impacting a pretty valuable resource,” said Matt Wempe, a city planner for Urbana. “It should raise red flags.”

The proposal for a 100 million gallon-per-year ethanol plant is just one of many that have popped up in the past several months across Illinois, which already has seven operating plants and is the nation’s No. 2 ethanol producer after Iowa.

High oil prices and support from Washington have inspired such interest in the corn-based gasoline additive that the Illinois Corn Growers Association now says at least 30 plants are in various stages of planning across the state.

All will use a lot of water.

It would take about 300 million gallons of water for processing the product and cooling equipment to make 100 million gallons of ethanol each year, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.
(18 June 2006)

A car guy who wants you to drive less

Alex Taylor III, Fortune
America’s biggest auto dealer has a plan to cut oil imports but it won’t win him many friends in the business.
Mike Jackson has a prescription for reigning in energy usage that is simple, straightforward and guaranteed to be effective. The CEO of AutoNation (Charts), the largest chain of auto dealers in the United States, suggests that the government raise the tax on gasoline by another $1 per gallon.

If that sounds like suicide for someone who makes his living selling new cars, well, that’s Jackson. Talking straight is his MO and he’s using his bully pulpit to make a uniquely personal campaign against dependence on imported oil. He spoke with FORTUNE Senior Editor Alex Taylor III.

Q: What impact are high gasoline prices having on the cars and trucks you sell?

This is one of those issues where you have to look at what the consumer does – usually a lot of complaining but very little change. However, I’ve always said that $3-a-gallon gas is a tipping point for consumer behavior. Now we’re there for the second time in a year and consumers are beginning to believe that prices are going to be higher for extended periods.

The coolness factor has left sport utility vehicles. SUVs are being purchased on an as-needed basis. Consumers would be switching to crossover utility vehicles anyway, because they offer many benefits over SUVs, like better ride and handling and fuel efficiency, but that process is being accelerated…

Q: Can we legislate fuel economy by forcing manufacturers to make more efficient vehicles?

Clearly, what has been done for the last 30 years won’t work. There has been tremendous improvement in engine technology in the last 20 years, and it has been used to increase performance and power heavier cars.

Today’s vehicles weigh 30 percent more than ten years ago because so many of them are SUVs. Consumers have gotten what they are demanding, and if gasoline is cheap, that is what they will continue to buy.

Q: So the answer is a higher gasoline tax?

To shift behavior, you have to change the consumer’s mindset. The party is over – cheap gasoline is not in our best interests. We have to have a tax at the pump that will justify a whole slew of technologies that are just sitting there if we can make them economical, both for existing engines and new engines. But $3-a-gallon gasoline isn’t going to get it done.
(19 June 2006)

The Interstate Highway System at 50

Michael Cabanatuan, SF Chronicle
America in fast lane with no exit
Freeways have changed our way of life and given birth to new industries
Fifty years ago from a hospital room, President Dwight Eisenhower changed America with a flick of his wrist, sending it speeding down an on-ramp toward the future of an automobile-oriented society.

In signing the bill that created the nation’s interstate highway system, Ike not only kick-started a nationwide freeway construction boom. He also fueled the country’s then-burgeoning car culture, which helped drive family car vacations, suburban sprawl, long-distance commutes and frontage-road commercial districts laden with fast-food franchises and chain motels.

“It was no less than the rearrangement of the ways people live their lives,” said Owen Gutfreund, director of the urban studies program at Barnard College in New York and author of “20th Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape.”

“New communities have been born, communities have grown, central cities have died.”

…”The interstate highway system was the most important public works project in United States history,” said Kenneth P. Jackson, a Columbia University history professor. “It has made life and travel easier for tens of millions of Americans. You can drive from New York to Memphis without hitting a red light.”

In addition to making it easier and quicker for average Americans to drive, interstates also made it faster and cheaper for businesses to move goods around the nation and led to a huge boom in the trucking industry. Today, 2 million trucks travel the interstates and move more than 10 billion tons of goods, compared with 120,000 trucks hauling half a billion tons when Eisenhower signed the bill.

“Commerce is the biggest impact the interstate system had,” McNichol said. “Mostly trucking, but also where businesses and shopping centers are located — near the interstate. The system is central to shipping and receiving, and growing even more so.”

The interstate boom brought with it an economic boom, particularly for the highway construction, oil and automotive industries. But it also benefited the tourism industry and helped drive the growth of fast-food outlets, national motel chains and business districts built around off-ramps — even in the middle of nowhere.
(17 June 2006)

Bush Administration Quietly Plans NAFTA Super Highway

Jerome R. Corsi, Human Events Online
Quietly but systematically, the Bush Administration is advancing the plan to build a huge NAFTA Super Highway, four football-fields-wide, through the heart of the U.S. along Interstate 35, from the Mexican border at Laredo, Tex., to the Canadian border north of Duluth, Minn.

Once complete, the new road will allow containers from the Far East to enter the United States through the Mexican port of Lazaro Cardenas, bypassing the Longshoreman’s Union in the process. The Mexican trucks, without the involvement of the Teamsters Union, will drive on what will be the nation’s most modern highway straight into the heart of America. The Mexican trucks will cross border in FAST lanes, checked only electronically by the new “SENTRI” system. The first customs stop will be a Mexican customs office in Kansas City, their new Smart Port complex, a facility being built for Mexico at a cost of $3 million to the U.S. taxpayers in Kansas City.

Mr. Corsi is the author of several books, including “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry” (along with John O’Neill), “Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil” (along with Craig R. Smith), and “Atomic Iran: How the Terrorist Regime Bought the Bomb and American Politicians.” He is a frequent guest on the G. Gordon Liddy radio show. He will soon co-author a new book with Jim Gilchrist on the Minuteman Project.
(18 June 2006)
Jerome Corsi’s name may be familiar to the peak oil community as the author of articles on the abiotic origins of oil. Human Events Online is the “National Conservative Weekly.” -BA