Treehugger.com is an excellent site for environmental issues. In this case, the Treehugger article gives a good introduction to ethanol as fuel, and discusses the differences between corn ethanol (US) and ethanol derived from sugar cane (as in Brazil). Note that the best form of ethanol production IMHO, from cellulose and other biomass, is not quite ready for prime time and needs more R&D (the money being use to subsidize corn ethanol would be a great place to get the R&D funds).

The Treehugger article is not polarizing (somewhat surprisingly) and will help most people get a good sense of what the basic ideas and issues are. It is, however, “soft” on corn ethanol and also on Brazilian ethanol from sugarcane (which is far superior to corn for producing ethanol, but that conclusion ignores the terrible exploitation of people and the environment that is going on in Brazil).

The comments to the Treehugger article offer valuable additional information- please read them also. Then you can see more detailed analysis here by searching for ethanol to find discussion and references to both scientific and popular articles on problems with corn ethanol, health problems from using any ethanol as fuel at HighlightHealth, problems with biofuels obtained from rain forests, and the effect of biofuel “mining” on local food supplies (the latter two points being extremely important according to many, including Jane Goodall).

Additional links to stories on corn ethanol as fuel (including several different viewpoints that I disagree with, but which you should read and decide for yourself):

Note, this article may not be available to everyone (the policies seem to change almost daily with commercial science journals. I realize that is an exaggeration, but if you can’t read the article, which is a PDF, any library or University will have access). Here is a key quote:

“Biofuels need new technology, new agronomy and new politics if they are not to do more harm than good… The common complaints about biofuels — and they seem to become more common by the day — are that they are expensive and ineffective at reducing fossil-fuel consumption, that they intensify farming needlessly, that they dress up discredited farm subsidies in new green clothes, and that they push up the price of food. All these things are true to some extent of corn-based ethanol, America’s biofuel of choice, and many are also true of Europe’s favoured biodiesel plans.”

 

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© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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