Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ethanol is insufficient to replace fossil fuels

By Joel Wendland

Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) have to go. The carbon emissions, pollution, carcinogens etc. are killing us and our planet.

One replacement fuel for fossil fuels is ethanol. Currently ethanol is mainly distilled from corn (here) or sugar cane waste (e.g. in Brazil), but research and development into cellulosic ethanol produced from other agricultural waste and vegetation (biomass) is under way.

But a new study just completed suggests that fuel produced from biomass is insufficient to replace fossil fuels. As reported in, "the total mass of carbon fixed by all croplands worldwide each year (about 7 billion tons) is still less than that released by fossil fuel emissions (7.7 billion tons)."

In other words, if every inch of cropland in the world was used to as biomass for ethanol production it wouldn't be enough to replace fossil fuels. Think about, even if every food product or crop from Indonesia to Mali to El Salvador were distilled into fuel for cars in North America or into our furnaces to heat our homes or into plants to make electricity, it wouldn't be enough.

It sounds like a weird Charlton Heston movie.

And Republican Party attempts to increase fossil fuel production are simply destructive and, if successful would bring us closer to the end of life on earth as we know it.

Ethanol is not the answer. It may be an important piece of the puzzle, but it must be carefully regulated on an international scale to halt abuses that are already occurring: deforestation, soil erosion, food shortages and high food prices, and monopolies on supply and distribution.

Alternatives such as solar power, wind power, mass transit, electric and hybrid technology for autos, buses, trains, etc., are necessary parts of the puzzle. But it is clear that privately owned and controlled natural resources (assisted by the state) are a huge mistake. The system Big Oil and Big Coal have thrived on and profited from has brought us to the brink of doom.

That ain't no joke.

I can hear Charlton Heston now. "Damn you bastards. Damn you all to hell."

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