just read this compelling article in time magazine about the hidden costs of using biofuels. these are hailed as the savior of the world by ridding our use of oil-derived fuels. it seems that little is paid attention to 1) how much energy it takes to process these biofuels into usable gasoline and 2) the rate of recycling these plant-based organisms on our land, considering the huge demand for these fuels.
think about this:
1. in the second half of last year, brazil chopped down or burned down a rhode island-size of amazon rainforest. the lush vegetation of the rainforest decarbonates our atmosphere.
2. since the us govt is ruthlessly pushing ethanol as our biofuel of choice, us farmers are switching from soybeans to corn. brazil makes up for this shortage by planting more soybeans and pushing the cattle farmers further out. cattle farmers are chopping down rain forest to make room for their herds.
3. one proposed ethanol plant in the midwest will need 1.3 MILLION gallons of water A DAY to grow corn to convert to fuel. another proposed plant in tampa asked for 800,000 gallons of fresh water A DAY to grow corn for ethanol.
4. corn requires lots of carbon-unfriendly tools to help growth like nitrogen fertilizer, applications of herbicides, heavy machinery to farm the equipment and more fuel for the transportation. some experts assume that it takes 1.3 gallons of oil to produce 1 gallon of ethanol.
5. the us government recently mandated that we produce 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2012. producing that much ethanol would require 96 million acres of corn. our entire corn crop in 2007, mostly used for food, was grown on 80 million acres. where are we going to find 96 million extra acres of land to grow corn for fuel?
it comes as no surprise to me that the us is behind a foolish strategy for alternative energy production. presidential candidates pander to the midwest states for their precious caucus votes and the powerful agribusiness entities like archer daniels midland. these lame politicians pledge huge increases in ethanol production without really understanding the total environmental cost.
the ethanol fallacy [popular mechanics]
drunk on ethanol [la times]
you should really check out the articles, they are very well written.
i’m not sure i know what the final answer will be, but i hope that we realize the ethanol is not it. i’d like to see more advanced technology like hydrogen fuel cells, where the total output from the vehicle’s tailpipe is just water. also, overall efficiency of a fuel-cell powerplant is 80%, if you were to compare how much energy can be extracted from the hydrogen. this compares with 20% in a conventional gasoline-powered car, where 80% of the energy is given off in heat and out the tailpipe. there’s a lot of research in fuel cells at the moment and honda even has a fuel-cell concept car called the fcx:
i’m out of breath. that’s all for now.