Climate Change

Useful shortish briefing on ethanol/biofuels

This article from Yale Environment 360 is fascinating.

Titled: “For Cellulosic Ethanol Makers, The Road Ahead Is Still Uphill”

The article has sober analysis of where we are on cellulosic ethanol as a sustainable fuel.

This would be of interest to most readers, I would guess. A few choice quotes below:

“While it has environmental advantages over other forms of ethanol, cellulosic ethanol has proven difficult to produce at commercial scale. Even as new production facilities come online in the U.S., a variety of economic and market realities suggest the new fuel still has big challenges to overcome.”

“Despite U.S. government mandates requiring that some ethanol be blended into the nation’s fuel supply, the market remains constrained by the design of most modern car engines, which are generally unable to tolerate more than small percentages of the cleaner-burning fuel that cellulosic ethanol provides. Complicating matters, federal officials are now considering a reduction in those very blending mandates — a move that cellulosic fuel supporters say would stymie the industry before it ever gets off the ground.

“…three plants are slated to produce 80 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually — a substantial uptick for such fuels, but still far less than 1 percent of the 135 billion gallons of gasoline used in the U.S. last year. And that’s just a fraction of the 1.75 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol that federal guidelines currently call for blending into the nation’s fuel supply.

The U.S. quickly became the global leader in ethanol production, followed by Brazil. But scientists soon began taking a harder look at this “green” fuel. A number of studies suggested that when the entire production cycle was considered, the emissions profile of ethanol derived from food crops such as corn was only marginally better — and sometimes even worse — than that of petroleum-based fuel. And as agricultural acres were converted to grow these fuel crops, scientists began to worry about additional emissions associated with land-use changes, increased pollution from fertilizer runoff, and additional consumption of limited water for irrigation and processing.

A spike in corn prices in 2008 also sparked concern — rightly or wrongly — that ethanol production was driving up global food prices.”

More here.

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