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The Great Corn Con: The Senate’s preposterous new ethanol bill

Robert Bryce, Slate
The ethanol madness continues! Last week, the Senate passed an energy bill mandating the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol per year by 2022-a sevenfold increase over current levels. Senators congratulated themselves for their environmental foresight. The president, a biofuels advocate, has enthusiastically endorsed the ethanol surge. But it’s almost certainly a fantasy, since no one in Washington seems to have thought for five minutes about where or how that much ethanol could be produced.

There are two domestic sources for that ethanol in such quantities: corn or cellulose. (Sugar cane is an excellent feedstock for ethanol, but the United States grows relatively small amounts of cane, particularly when compared with Brazil, the world’s largest producer.)

Let’s look at corn first. The Senate’s ethanol mandate will increase the consumption of corn, the single most subsidized crop in America.

…, the ethanol craze isn’t limited to Congress. Presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat, has declared that the United States should be producing 65 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels per year by 2025. And every major presidential candidate-including former ethanol heretic John McCain, a Republican-are genuflecting in front of the ethanol altar.

So, don’t expect the ethanol binge to stop any time soon. An ethanol-induced hangover is sure to follow.
(26 June 2007)

Tapping green alternative in Oman

Sunil K. Vaidya, Gulf News
Muscat: If a Sohar-based Omani entrepreneur has his way, then by 2010 the sultanate could become the first Arab country to produce an economically viable alternative to petrol.

Mohammad Bin Saif Al Harthy and his family are successfully using ethanol produced from biomass for the last 18 months to run their cars in Sohar.

“Our experiment of using ethanol in our cars has been successful. We have had no problems so far,” enthused Al Harthy in an interview with Gulf News.

The production of fuel ethanol from renewable resources as an economically viable alternative to gasoline is currently the subject of much research.
(23 June 2007)

Beware the spectre in the fireplace

Mari Gibson, Sydney Morning Herald
In winter some people’s thoughts turn to cosy nights in front of a wood fire. Others, perhaps, look to the chilly skies and wonder what all that smoke is doing to the environment.

The solid fuel heater remains popular in Sydney, where about 9 per cent of freestanding homes have one, according to Liza Cassidy of the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.

These heaters, however, can contribute up to 40 per cent of air particle pollution in winter. That brownish haze on the horizon is also affected by wind, sunlight, temperature inversions (where pollution is trapped in a cold layer of air at near-ground level) and topography. ..

Demi Brown, the general manager of the Australian Home Heating Association (, which represents wood heater manufacturers and retailers in NSW, insists the industry is “carbon neutral” if the firewood used is from sustainable sources – “and that’s what we promote to consumers: to make sure that they purchase their firewood from a sustainable supplier”.

However, according to Cassidy, a 2003 CSIRO study shows that while carbon dioxide released by wood heaters is generally less per unit of energy than from electric and gas heaters, the use of firewood means “substantial” amounts of fossil fuels are consumed in harvesting and transport. ..
(19 June 2007)

Ethanolics Anonymous

Denny Haldeman, CounterPunch
Once again, we find our political leadership united around a very bad idea, ethanol and other biofuels to help gain “energy independence,” to “help farmers” and most importantly, to help citizens avoid the harsh reality of peak oil converging with unsustainable lifestyles. It is understandable that the politicians must pander to the corn growing states in anticipation of election cycles. Politicians have always been prostitutes for votes. Even the most enlightened, progressive, and thoughtful of them have fallen prey to this cornographic behavior.

While some crops are superior to others and forest eating cellulostic ethanol technology scams are still in development, corn ethanol primacy is devouring the nation’s alternative energy focus. Billions of taxpayer dollars are being thrown into this unsustainable technology and we subsidize each gallon of auto alcohol to the tune of 51 cents per gallon. The ethanol fumes are leaving us drunk on delusion, ignoring the consequences and refusing to face the future when the oil dries up.

To grow enough corn for ethanol to replace our oil addiction would require approximately 482 million acres of cropland, exceeding the current total of 434 million acres of cropland used for all food and fiber. This does not even account for projected growth of oil consumption in the U.S. There is already the push to put the marginal Conservation Reserve Program lands, vital for wildlife and water quality and quantity, into intense energy crop production.

Old school ethical farmers in the corn belt are already lamenting the destruction of soil saving windbreaks, some planted during the CCC years, the plowing under of hayfields to corn, highly erodable hilly lands being put into corn, and water drainages being reduced, hearkening back to the depression era insanity that squandered so much vital topsoil. Cellulostic ethanol scams will fare even worse for the soils as “residues” are scooped up, leaving virtually nothing to feed back to the soil.
(26 June 2007)
Related from AlterNet: The Great Biofuel Hoax.