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Grist: What we’ve learned from the biofuels series
Tom Philpott, Grist
After spending much of the last several months thinking about the biofuels boom and its implications in preparation for this special series, we’ve come to a few conclusions.
Like other energy sources, biofuels have significant environmental liabilities. Boosters’ rhetoric about “renewable energy” aside, topsoil — from which biofuel feedstocks spring — is not an easily renewable resource. It takes centuries under natural conditions to replace an inch of topsoil lost to erosion. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute reckons that “36 percent of the world’s cropland is now losing topsoil at a rate that is undermining its productivity.”
(15 Dec 2006)
The conclusion of Grist’s well rounded series into the pros and cons of biofuels in the US is very critical of the industry and subsidies. See bottom of this page for final list of the Grist biofuels series. -AF
Growing corn for ethanol has limits
Ben Lilliston, The Mountain Mail
In the last few years, we’ve seen ethanol turn the U.S. agriculture market on its head. Production for ethanol in the United States focuses exclusively on domestic use. And, at least for the time being, it has sharply raised the price of corn, and had a similar domino effect on soybean and wheat prices. The result has been fairer prices for farmers and fewer farm subsidies.
Just how big is the ethanol boom? Corn-based ethanol production in the United States doubled between 2001 and 2005, and is likely to double again the next few years.
…According to a new report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, if only 25 percent of proposed ethanol plants are built, the Midwest could see its corn exports cut in half. If 100 percent are built, Midwest ethanol would use up all the corn that currently goes for exports.
(18 Dec 2006)
China to limit use of grains for biofuels amid renewed worries over supply
AP via IHT
China will restrict the use of corn and other edible grains for producing biofuel, state media reports said Monday, noting concerns over surging prices despite expectations for yet another bumper harvest.
“We have a principle with regard to biofuel: it should neither impact the people’s grain consumption, nor should it compete with grain crops for cultivated land,” the state-run newspaper People’s Daily quoted Yang Jian, director of the development planning department under the Agriculture Ministry, as saying.
It said Yang emphasized that his ministry opposes using edible grains as raw material for biofuel.
(18 Dec 2006)
Mergers create biofuel majors
Mergers in the booming palm oil sector are creating the biofuel industry’s own ‘Big Oil’ companies, but vertical integration and economies of scale may not be enough to make exports profitable or to replace crude.
(18 Dec 2006)
Final of the Grist biofuels special
Here’s the final list of articles in Grist’s impressive biofuels series:
Uh, bio-what? Explainers and resources
- On the Road Again, by Tom Philpott. How the world got addicted to oil, and where biofuels will take us.
- The Big Three, by Maywa Montenegro. The numbers behind ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel in the U.S.
- Newfangled? Hardly, by Sarah Kraybill Burkhalter. A lighthearted look at biofuels through time.
- Can My Car Do That?, by Kate Sheppard. Find out which cars can run on ethanol and biodiesel.
- Get Pumped. All the resources you need to hop on the biofuels bandwagon.
- Coming Soon to a Gas Tank Near You, by Sarah Kraybill Burkhalter. The what, where, and why of E85 ethanol.
- The ABC’s of Biofuels, by Kate Sheppard and Tom Philpott. A handy biofuels glossary, and videos to boot.
- The Balancing Act, by Julia Olmstead. How experts measure the energy balance of alternative fuels.
- Are We There Yet?, by Jennifer Weeks. Cellulosic ethanol may be coming sooner than you think.
- Powered by the Stars. Check out the latest entries in the celeb-biofuels biz.
- You Want Me to Put What in My Tank?, by Kate Sheppard. The strangest biofuel sources you’ve never heard of.
- Plus, They Smell Good, by Sarah Kraybill Burkhalter. The top 10 reasons to give a hoot about biofuels.
Count me in: Profiles of proponents
- Small Potatoes, by Emily Gertz. Using grease and other goodies, small producers are making a big difference.
- Trouble at Muscle Beach?, by Emily Gertz. Grassroots biodiesel operations contend with industrial sand-kickers.
- The Doctor Is in … Your Tank, by Yolanda Crous. An interview with Seattle biodiesel distributor Dan Freeman.
- Grease Be With You, by Yolanda Crous. An interview with Greasecar founder Justin Carven.
- Strike It Richard, by Amanda Griscom Little. Richard Branson chats about embracing ethanol and slashing airplane emissions.
- Something Ventured, Something Gained, by Amanda Griscom Little. Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla chats about the promise of ethanol.
- Professor Cellulose, by Jennifer Weeks. Biofuel pioneer Lee Lynd points the way toward a “carbohydrate economy.”
- It’s Happening in Ottawa, by Sharon Boddy. Grains become fuel at the world’s first cellulosic ethanol demo plant.
- Miles to Go, by Yolanda Crous. An interview with Missouri farmer and ethanol co-op member Brian Miles.
- Bio for All, by Kelly Hearn. A biodiesel entrepreneur in Argentina spreads seeds of wisdom.
- FutureFlex/LoveSounds, by Yolanda Crous. An interview with Mary Beth Stanek, General Motors energy director.
- When Dreams Become Reality, by Erik Hoffner. How a grassroots biodiesel group can show the way for others.
Not so fast: Issues and implications
- What About the Land?, by Julia Olmstead. A look at the impacts of biofuels production, in the U.S. and the world.
- Give Green, Go Yellow, by Tom Philpott. How cash and corporate pressure pushed ethanol to the fore.
- Choose Your Own Bio-Adventure, by Tom Philpott. Three perspectives on the biofuels debate.
- Keep It Green, by Ana Unruh Cohen. To fulfill its environmental promises, biofuel policy needs a kick in the pants.
- By the People, For the People, by David Morris. Toward a community-owned, decentralized biofuel future.
- Biofuel Skeptic Extraordinaire, by Tom Philpott. An interview with David Pimentel.
- Who Will Get the Jobs?, by Alan Hipólito. An environmental-justice advocate responds to the biofuels boom.
- Feeding the Beast, by Tom Philpott. It’s time for a real “food vs. fuel” debate.
- Samba Lessons, by Tom Philpott and Gordon Feller. What Brazil can teach the U.S. about energy and ethanol.
- Stuck in the Middle with Fuel, by Eliza Barclay. As its neighbors back biofuels, Central America gears up for business
- A Bridge to Somewhere?, by Tom Philpott. What we’ve learned from the biofuels series.
(4-15 Dec 2006)