Friday, April 23, 2010

EU estimates biofuels produce much more carbon than oil does

Allow me to (not so) briefly explain that comment.

A few years ago I was assigned a semester-long class project on energy. I tried to suggest that the group focus on how corn-derived ethanol is not the answer to energy concerns. They liked it and misunderstood it so that we spent a whole semester planning to advocate an ethanol-distribution network. Thus: frustration!

The greatest irony came about when, at the end of the semester, the professors liked it so much they offered me an independent study for the next semester on the same topic. When I raised my hesitations about going through with ethanol advocacy, the arrangement for the independent study fell apart. You'll understand, the professor I was going to be working with was a Capitol Hill senatorial staffer. And all the congress-people were gearing up to support ethanol, a political proposition with seemingly no downsides. Both environmental blue-staters and midwestern/energy-independence red-staters would get beaucoup political points. So this staffer was not about to understand me dragging my feet.

Of course, I may be a bit greedy because irony already delivered me a wonderful I-was-right moment later that very semester. That's when food prices spiked like crazy and the wider public suddenly turned on ethanol, calling it the cause. Of course, it wasn't technically an I-was-right moment since my main concern wasn't about food prices. It was that studies had already indicated that using corn ethanol produces about the same amount of carbon emissions as gasoline.

And now I see this report. It's a study by the EU which found that it potentially produces four times as much carbon as conventional fuels. And by the way the EU's incentive is actually to tout ethanol as a great thing.  They got this by taking into account that raised food prices cause farmers to cut down more rainforest to grow more food. And cutting down rainforest is a big carbon no-no. Very high emissions.

So. On behalf of my kind-of-accidental moment of following my conscience, ahem..


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