Oregon’s academics say ethanol is a waste of effort

Oregon’s academics say ethanol is a waste of effort in a report published recently and discussed on the Onward Oregon Blog

Our George Seldes says

Whether you care about the phony issue of “energy independence,” the very real issue of global warming, or you are concerned with preparing for an energy scarce future after peak oil, the result is the same: money spent subsidizing biofuels could be far better spent on other things that pay off far better for your goals


There are some interesting estimates of the energy value of corn ethanol, canola diesel and cellulosic ethanol. It would have been interesting to see a comparison of using biomass to generate steam and then electricity as another alternative. Has anyone got any data on this?

It’s hard to disagree with George’s suggestions for cheap easy ways to reduce the impact of cars on the environment in his state. One thing that is strange is the idea of gas station attendants, the pace of life in Oregon sounds much more pleasant than central London. Why can’t cars have sensors fitted that display tyre pressure to the driver? Any suggestions?

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3 Responses to Oregon’s academics say ethanol is a waste of effort

  1. George Seldes 18 June, 2007 at 4:32 pm #

    Oregon is one of two US states that still forbid “self-service” gasoline for most drivers; thus we have a large number of gas station attendants who do the job—so we should take advantage by having them check tire pressure, oil levels, and air filter cleanliness (all factors in conserving gasoline). Before too long we’re probably going to have a lot fewer people buying gas, so these attendants will have lots of time to do these extras.

    As far as wood-burning for electricity, you can do it but it’s horribly inefficient; here in the States, there were a number of wood-burning plants created by the 1970s energy acts that required utilities to buy their output at the utilities’ avoided cost (what it would have cost them to generate the same amount of power).

    The bottom line is that, unless the wood is free and the transport cheap (i.e., the wood burning plant is right next to a mill that produces lots of wood waste that it has no use for), there is no way to make money on this. Moreover, these plants are tiny in the scheme of things, and make no appreciable contribution towards supply.

    The world needs its trees on the job, storing carbon for a century or more, holding water in the soil, etc. Burning trees for electricity can be productive in a tiny few settings, but if many of us did it we’d soon be back to where England was when it found itself forced to adopt coal.

  2. Biofuelsimon 19 June, 2007 at 9:19 am #

    Wow that’s the first time I’ve heard of gas station attendants getting legal job protection. That must either be some powerful union thing or do your legislators think that petrol is too dangerous to be sloshed about by Oregoneans?
    I take your point about alternative uses for trees and other commodities shaping the economics of burning them for fuel. Maybe we should be looking at ways of decarboinising coal and burning the trapped hydrogen?

  3. Mark C R UK 19 June, 2007 at 10:25 pm #

    There’s also the issue of obtaining “platform chemicals” from biomass (trees in your example)…

    Work is ongoing – if the technologies right it should be profitable and environmentally useful/sustainable.

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