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Should It Matter Where Your Biodiesel Comes From?

Curl, Aimee; Seattle Weekly
As the area’s biodiesel industry prepares to explode, a Ballard pioneer throws down the ethical gauntlet.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Michael Chamberlin pulls his Ford pickup truck into Dr. Dan’s Alternative Fuelwerks in Ballard, where he sticks his key card into the slot and begins to fill up for about $3.40 per gallon.

Why biodiesel? “Why not?” Chamberlin replies. “Why wouldn’t I? It’s a simple solution.” Asked if he cares what kind of oil the fuel is made from-soy? canola? palm?-Chamberlin is ambivalent. “It’s doesn’t matter as long as it’s biodiesel,” he says.

“Fuck yeah, it matters,” counters Nico Juarez, as he fills up his Chevy van with biodiesel across town at Laurelhurst Oil. “If it was my way, it would be all dumpster oil. You can’t get any more local, more recyclable than that.”

Juarez got into biodiesel six years ago when he bought a 500-gallon tank and started mixing his own, collecting used oil from fryer vats in local restaurants. If the oil to make biodiesel isn’t collected or grown locally, he reasons, it takes more energy to get it to the pump than it does regular diesel fuel.

“People say, ‘I’m green, I’m running around in my TDI [Volkswagen Passat].’ They’re hypocrites,” Juarez says. “They run around with stuff that smells good, thinking they’re all liberal with clean shit in their tank, but where did it come from? It infuriates me.”

Indeed, Seattle’s biodiesel enthusiasts come in many shades of green. And their personal differences are reflective of a budding war between entrepreneurs as the biodiesel industry sits on the cusp of a local explosion.
(18 July 2007)

Ethanol fuels global run-up in food prices

Tavia Grant, Globe and Mail
Food prices are heating up globally as soaring energy costs, wonky weather and an ethanol boom all combine to push grocery bills higher.

Canadian food prices are 3.1 per cent higher than a year ago, Statistics Canada said Wednesday, well ahead of last year’s rate of 2.4 per cent. Higher prices for meat and dairy are the main culprits, but the pickup in prices spills into everything from bread and applies to ice cream, eggs, jam and juice.

The reasons vary with each product, but one factor behind higher prices may be an ethanol boom south of the border, with Canadian chicken and dairy farmers saying they’re seeing higher feed prices.

“Corn and wheat prices are putting upward pressure on food in general,” said Ron Morency, acting chief of Statscan’s consumer price division. “We see that right now in our meat prices.”

…”It’s not going to let up any time soon,” said Adrienne Warren, senior economist at Bank of Nova Scotia [BNS-T]. “Short term, it might be weather-related. But longer term, it’s growing demand for food in emerging economies, with growing middle classes and purchasing power, and the global demand for ethanol and biodiesel.”

This month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said higher demand for biofuels is causing “fundamental changes” to agricultural markets that could drive up prices.

They see “structural changes” under way that could well keep prices for many agricultural products higher over the coming decade.

“We haven’t seen anything on this scale before,” Martin von Lampe, an agricultural economist in Paris at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, told Bloomberg News.

Net food importing countries, as well as the urban poor, will likely be hardest hit, the OECD predicts.

Corn prices have eased in recent months and it may be that now energy – rather than ethanol – is putting the real heat on food.

Oil prices are now trading at an 11-month high, and those higher energy costs are putting the squeeze on many farmers.
(18 July 2007)

Corn biofuel ‘dangerously oversold’ as green energy

Phil McKenna, New Scientist
Ethanol fuel made from corn may be being “dangerously oversold” as a green energy solution according to a new review of biofuels.

The report concludes that the rapidly growing and heavily subsidised corn ethanol industry in the US will cause significant environmental damage without significantly reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“There are smarter solutions than rushing straight to corn-based ethanol,” says Scott Cullen of the Network for New Energy Choices (NNEC) and a co-author of the study. “It’s just one piece of a more complex puzzle.”

The report analyses hundreds of previous studies, and was compiled by the environmental advocacy groups Food and Water Watch, NNEC and the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment. The study was released as the US Congress debates key agriculture and energy laws that will determine biofuel policy for years to come.
(18 July 2007)

Report Pooh-Poohs Corn Biofuels

Network for New Energy Choices, Science a go-go
Corn is not a viable biofuel source, says a new report released today by Food & Water Watch, the Network for New Energy Choices, and the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment. The report claims that the corn ethanol refinery industry will not significantly offset U.S. fossil fuel consumption without unacceptable environmental and economic consequences.

“Rural communities won’t benefit from the Farm Bill becoming a fuel bill. In the long run, family farmers and the environment will be losers, while agribusiness, whose political contributions are fueling the ethanol frenzy, will become the winners,” said Food & Water Watch’s Wenonah Hauter.

The authors contend that rising oil prices, energy security, and global warming concerns have led to today’s “go yellow” hype over corn ethanol. They point out that the expansion of the corn ethanol industry will lead to more water and air pollution and soil erosion of America’s farm belt, while failing to significantly offset fossil fuel use or combat global warming. Other key points include:
(19 July 2007)