Posts Tagged ‘bioethanol’


“A law taking effect Tuesday makes Missouri just the third state – behind Minnesota and Hawaii – to implement a wide-ranging ethanol mandate.” This article by AP reporter David Lieb reports on new Missouri legislation that mandates the use of ethanol-gasoline mixtures. E10, or 10% ethanol, has already become common on Missouri. The article cites the low cost of ethanol relative to gasoline as the economic driving force, but I take exception to this point! As documented extensively on my blog, tax subsidies fund ethanol and, unless obtained from biomass (which it isn’t), it not only has terrible consequences for the environment but is as bad or worse for air pollution as gasoline. Read more at this site and comment on your thoughts about the socialism practiced by Republicans to help Archer Daniels Midland and other major corn manufacturers even though corn ethanol is bad for the environment.

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“Bioethanol – ethanol derived from the fermentation of crops such as maize or sugar – is becoming increasingly available as a ‘green’ and sustainable alternative to gasoline. It is often sold at the fuel pumps as E85 – an 85:15 mixture of ethanol and gasoline. Now, however, Mark Jacobson of Stanford University is calling into question the environmental credentials of fuels consisting mainly of bioethanol. The Stanford scientist ran computer models of the impacts on atmospheric pollution and human health of vehicles running exclusively on an ethanol mixture and concluded that the number of respiratory-related deaths and illness would increase.”

Related results from studies in Brazil, where ethanol has been used extensively as automobile fuel for over ten years, are discussed here.

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This is going up in honor of Blog Action Day, 10/15/2007.

One site that does a lot to make affiliations of “dissenters” clear is the Global Warming Forum. Here we find opinion, commentary, quotes and graphics on many subjects, including:

Curious, to say the least, don’t you think?

I recommend reading Global Warming Forum regularly and learning about a variety of things, including who and what are behind some of the anti-environmental and anti-“environmental regulation” papers that some people publish routinely.

  • Please don’t get the impression that I condemn industrially-funded research, or that I believe all dissenters are evil.
  • I am funded by industry and the Federal government, and plan to keep it that way.
  • In the US, Federal funding levels are low, and industry has always funded important work, worldwide
  • Furthermore, some scientists may believe that global warming is a non-issue without having any ties to large corporations.

However, as required by all reputable, “peer-reviewed” scientific journals (as opposed to newspapers, magazines, trade magazines, etc.), all publications acknowledge funding sources and make clear any possible conflicts of interest. “Peer-reviewed” means that an article has to be read and approved by (typically) 2-3 anonymous, independent scientists and an editor before it can be published. It isn’t a perfect system, but it works pretty well.

Just the other day I found an unreviewed article on the web that was, I felt, really just advertising. It was a very positive discussion of biodiesel, which does have many good properties, but can also be bad for the environment and/or food prices, depending on the details of how it is made and used. The source cited for this article was a website that promotes and advertises biodiesel directly. I tried to contact the author but the email bounced back, so I responded with a post about the problems with Bioethanol (I didn’t want to attack Biodiesel, I just wanted some balance. I address some issues I have with certain types of biodiesel elsewhere in this blog).

There are many things to commend biodiesel, but I’d be willing to bet that any technology examined from only one perspective can sneak up and hurt us:

We need balanced reporting of the benefits and possible drawbacks of all technology!

Let’s take a look at an unrelated example that does acknowledge the “connections”, but also reveals something curious about the past. Searching Googlescholar for the “link between cigarettes and cancer” turns up articles like:

The idea behind this article is that an “electrically heated cigarette” (EHC) is far safer than a cigarette that burns in the normal way. Who cares? It will still kill you. Of course, the authors and their employers from the tobacco industry care. Interestingly, the following note accompanies the paper:

“Philip Morris Research Laboratories GmbH recently changed its name from INBIFO Institüt für Biologische Forschung GmbH.”

Just perhaps, this change took place because people became angry that something called

“INBIFO, the Institute for Biological Research” (translated from the German)

was just an arm of Phillip Morris, the tobacco company. Somehow the “Institute for Biological Research” sounds impressive and independent, especially compared to “Philip Morris Research Laboratories”. I wonder how many years the “deceptive labeling” practice went on.

So, keep reading here, at the Global Warming Forum and elsewhere to have a better chance of judging the quality and sources of information for yourself.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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A Grist special series on biofuelsSee HIGHLIGHT Health for an excellent discussion of the increased health risks associated with bioethanol as automobile fuel. Walter at HIGHLIGHT Health gives references to several articles and discusses both a predictive model for future air quality and the actual air quality in Brazil, where cars running on 100% ethanol have been around for some time.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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With thanks to George L. in St. Louis for the heads up, here is what The Economist has to say (in regard to US corn-ethanol efforts):

“Everyone seems to think that ethanol is a good way to make cars greener. Everyone is wrong”

The article does not dismiss all bioenergy, and it reports on new research and development that may provide economically-viable bioenergy supplies. The discussion of these potential new approaches is supportive and hopeful.

However, the article dismantles myths about corn-ethanol as a fuel. These include the matter, well-known by technologists but seemingly unknown to politicians or the public, that ethanol is a lousy fuel for many reasons. Not the least is the “hygroscopic” nature of ethanol- its property of absorbing water from the atmosphere. Automobile fuel with significant water content is bad for combustion efficiency.

It is time we realized that “natural” is not synonymous with “environmentally friendly”, or even “harmless”. It is time we stopped allowing senseless government subsidies of environmentally-wasteful corn ethanol programs that are driving up the cost of nearly all food, everywhere, in the US and around the world… without doing a single thing to solve any energy problem.

If you want to read more about the harmful effects on “normal people” of increased food prices, just see”Biofuelled: Grain prices go the way of the oil prices,” from The Economist print edition, or online at the link. The fact that demand for grain is exceeding supplies is explained in this article:

“The culprit is the growing use of grains to make biofuels, such as ethanol. … Ethanol distilleries (in the USA) now consume 1/5 of the Nation’s corn.”

But how can this be? Bioethanol is all natural. Isn’t that good? In a word, NO, and the stresses that corn-ethanol places on the environment, the food economy, and the cost of living are serious. Farm production may not be able to keep up with demand, and, the article reports, even if production is increased, it may not matter:

“… even if new land is planted, argues Jeffrey Currie of Goldman Sachs, it will not necessarily reduce the cost of grains. Since high oil prices and generous government subsidies ensure that biofuels are profitable, any extra grain will be used to make more (ethanol). That will not dent the oil price (…). Instead, the price of biofuels has risen to that of petrol (gasoline), and the price of corn and crude oil, the main feedstocks for the two, have converged.”

How can it happen that food prices are being driven up with NO environmental benefit? Among other things, we should consider the following points:

  • the convergence of pressure from large national and multinational farming companies and from small farmers
  • the readiness of politicians to use public funds to “give back” to their constituents and campaign contributors through huge subsidies
  • the undoubted joy in some circles that this behavior can be successfully linked, however falsely, to “improving the environment”
  • the willingness of the public to believe that anything “natural” has to be better than alternatives

For additional relevant articles in The Economist and many other news and scientific sources, see the World Headlines link under my blogroll heading. Comments and feedback are welcome, as always.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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