Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What to do about.... Ethanol.

In an attempt to help stem the tide of Global Warming I have been buying only ethanol enhanced gas. Unfortunately that limits my choice of gas stations to around three brands. But, what is worse than that is the possibility that I may be doing more harm than good. Ethanol produced from corn is the most inefficient type of ethanol. A few months ago the producers of ethanol conceded that this type of ethanol is probably not really helping in the fight against Global Warming, it may in fact be increasing the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. However, they ask that we be patient and not abandon the use of ethanol. As more consumers come on board the process will improve and the benefits will out weight the deficits. Unfortunately the ethanol producers still seem to be fixated on using corn as the primary source of raw material for production. As a result of this increased interest in corn, the market price of corn has risen dramatically. It is estimated that the entire grain harvest of the U.S. would be needed to reach the goal of reducing American dependence on foreign oil by 20% in 10 years. If that is true than what will the people eat? Corn prices have more than doubled in some countries. In Mexico there has been food riots as the price of tortillas rocketed up by 60%. With over 2 billon hungry mouths to feed versus a mere 800 million cars worldwide, we are just seeing the beginning of a bitter fight.

So what should I do?

The price of food is going to increase, possibly beyond normal inflation rates. If the ethanol producers begin to use other raw materials, such as wood chips, and reduce the use of corn in their product that would be a good start. If they could refine the process that produces cellulosic ethanol, than some of the true benefits of ethanol may be realised. But, for all of this to work, the raw material must be grown close to the ethanol production facility. And the ethanol plant must be very close to the oil refinery where it will be mixed with gasoline. This would help reduce the carbon footprint that is part of the production and transportation of ethanol. Producing clean low carbon ethanol in the mid-west and then shipping it half way across the country would not only negate any possible carbon offset, it may increase the carbon emitted beyond what would be emitted if you simply drove with non ethanol blended gas.

There are no quick and easy answers. Today it may be better not to support the exclusive use of ethanol blended fuels. In stead we should be demanding better fuel economy. Making a litre of gas go farther is probably the best low, “no”, impact change we can make. Tomorrow we may find that better fuel economy; hybrid technology and non-grain ethanol will make driving more efficient, less harmful to the environment and cleaner.

I think I’m going to continue to demand better fuel economy and non-grain, “food free”, ethanol.

Green-fuel craze eating into supplies,



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