Biofuels: some questions to be faced.

Is fuels ethanol bad for the evniroment and are biofuels a dead end?

Here’s the pay-off to a Q& A between John Philpott of Grist magazine and David Pimentel, professor of entomology at Cornell.

Philpott: A lot of earnest people support biofuels as a way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and displace fossil fuels. What do you tell them?

Pimentel: Conserve! One word. And no one talks about it, including the environmentalists. When these people talk about biofuels providing us with our energy, they need to look at the facts right now. Eighteen percent of all corn is going into ethanol production. We’re getting 4.5 million gallons of ethanol. That’s 1 percent of U.S. petroleum use. It’s 1 percent.

If we use 100 percent of U.S. corn, and we won’t do that, but if we used 100 percent, what would that do for us? Six percent. And ethanol is being subsidized at 45 times the rate of gasoline.

It’s a pretty comforting to see that my quick calculations were not to wide of the mark (ok so the mark was pretty wide) in this run round the houses on some of the key biofuel questions.

One fact surprised me :P lants collect 0.1% of all the sunlight falling on them, for instance.

Pimatel also emerges from the piece as a fan of organic farming, I’m not sure there’s enough manure in the world for that to be a really sensible position. But if we used organic crops to produce ethanol then the energy balance would be much more favourable… Trouble is, in the UK at least, these are premium products and cost more than inorganic crops.

Taking his arguments to their conclusion we would do better to grow plants, dry them in the field and burn them for energy than converting them to alternatives for gasoline or diesel.

But his talk about conservation struck a chord with me. Would you buy a smaller, less featured car if it were going to cost you less to run, and helped to conserve resources

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One Response to Biofuels: some questions to be faced.

  1. Rod Ruoff 14 December, 2006 at 3:36 am #

    Then, type in your zip code. Interesting, isn’t it?

    You might enjoy making some new friends by attending a showing in someone’s home…

    Here is a message perhaps worth posting on various web sites, as one finds the time:

    People in the USA can now readily learn about global warming by visiting and simply typing in your zip code!

    There are house parties being given across the country in which the film “An Inconvenient Truth” will be shown for free. A chance to network, make friends, and learn about this issue. Whether you like Gore or not (and many Republicans I know said “it is a very important film, timely and critical for people to watch”) it is a really important film to see. If you want the opinions of various film critics, just Google the movie title and film critic…for example, the site

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