Biofuels - Aug 24
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Ethanol isn't a good answer for replacing oil
Jeremy Cato, Globe & Mail
The truth is, it is not as environmentally friendly as its most ardent supporters say and vehicle performance is compromised.
At first glance, you would think ethanol is not only the cure for global warming, but also a way to reduce our dependence on costly oil imported from trouble spots in the Middle East and elsewhere.
It's not. But that hasn't stopped governments, auto makers and various industry lobby groups from pushing ahead enthusiastically on the ethanol front.
Let's start with governments, which have set up new rules for ethanol that are aimed at reducing vehicle emissions.
...The truth is, ethanol is not as environmentally friendly as its most ardent supporters say and vehicle performance is compromised, too. True, compared with gasoline, ethanol produces 12-per-cent less so-called greenhouse gasses linked to global warming, notes a recent study from the University of Minnesota.
But the researchers also said it has environmental drawbacks, including "markedly greater" releases of nitrogen, phosphorous and pesticides into waterways as runoff from cornfields. Ethanol, especially at higher concentrations in gasoline, also produces more smog-causing pollutants than gasoline per unit of energy burned, the researchers said.
In addition, the researchers say ethanol would supply only 12 per cent of U.S. motoring fuel requirements even if every hectare of corn grown were used to fill gas tanks rather than hungry bellies. Biodiesel from soybeans is the better choice compared with corn-produced ethanol, say the researchers. But "neither can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies," the researchers concluded in the paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In a blow to those who support the kind of farmer subsidies that are rampant in Europe and North America, the paper supports an alternative to corn-based ethanol. The development of non-food materials such as switchgrass, prairie grasses and woody plants to produce cellulosic ethanol would be a major improvement with greater energy output and lower environmental impacts.
Unfortunately, the creation of cellulosic ethanol remains in the laboratory research stage. And even non-food sources of ethanol would fall far short of replacing gasoline, most researchers agree.
(24 Aug 2006)
Home-grown crops accelerate drive towards biofuels
Ben Webster, UK Times
DRIVERS are to be offered a new fuel made from crops grown in Britain that will be less harmful to the environment - but there will be no need for them to modify their engines.
Sugar beet grown in East Anglia will be fermented to produce butanol, which will be blended with petrol and sold at more than 1,200 filling stations.
The Government plans to accelerate the introduction of butanol and other biofuels by setting oil companies tough targets for producing renewable fuels that have much less impact on the environment.
(23 Aug 2006)
I hadn't heard much about butanol as an automotive fuel before. Check out the wikipedia page on Clostridium acetobutylicum, the bacteria which can produce it from starches. -AF
Does biofuel make sense?
Jacqueline Rowarth in Melbourne, National Business Review (NZ)
Not always. Sometimes economic and environmental factors count against it.
From this side of the Tasman it is not clear whether the enthusiasm for biofuels stems from a desire to replace non-renewable energy sources or to have an economic impact.
If it is the latter, it is not clear whether it is being driven by consumer demand for a potentially cheaper product or by producers' need for an additional income stream.
The facts are elusive because of uncertainty in the calculations.
Biofuel is a form of solar energy stored through the photosynthesis of plants. To be deemed renewable, biofuel must have a minimum of 80% content by volume of materials derived from living organisms harvested within the 10 years preceding its manufacture. Thus biofuel is distinguished from coal and petroleum. Both embody energy captured by plant activity in prehistoric times, and so are deemed non-renewable.
(23 Aug 2006)
A good article with a number of facts I hadn't come across before -AF