Posts Tagged ethanol

Ethanol doesn't make a lot of sense…

At least after reading this article it doesn’t seem to. For example:

Corn requires large doses of herbicide and nitrogen fertilizer and can cause more soil erosion than any other crop. And producing corn ethanol consumes just about as much fossil fuel as the ethanol itself replaces. Biodiesel from soybeans fares only slightly better.

Much of what happens in its tanks and pipes is typical of any large distillery–after all, people have been turning grain into alcohol for eons. The corn is ground, mixed with water, and heated; added enzymes convert the starch into sugars. In a fermentation tank, yeast gradually turns the sugars into alcohol, which is sepa- rated from the water by distillation. The leftover, known as distillers’ grains, is fed to the cows, and some of the wastewater, high in nitrogen, is applied to fields as a fertilizer.

The process also gives off large amounts of carbon dioxide, and that’s where ethanol’s green label starts to brown. Most ethanol plants burn natural gas or, increasingly, coal to create the steam that drives the distillation, adding fossil- fuel emissions to the carbon dioxide emitted by the yeast. Growing the corn also requires nitrogen fertilizer, made with natural gas, and heavy use of diesel farm machinery. Some studies of the energy balance of corn ethanol–the amount of fossil energy needed to make ethanol versus the energy it produces–suggest that ethanol is a loser’s game, requiring more carbon-emitting fossil fuel than it displaces. Others give it a slight advantage. But however the accounting is done, corn ethanol is no greenhouse panacea.

I recently finished watching NOVA’s “Saved By the Sun”, and it described a more optimistic means of powering the planet. While solar may not be an ideal solution for several reasons, it certainly has a lot lower impact than ethanol. Did you know that Germany is investing a lot of money and resources in solar energy? Or that Las Vegas is moving toward solar energy? You can watch the program on the PBS website.

Anyway you look at it, this country has to come up with some solution to our energy dependance, and global warming too. My personal favorite candidate has a lot of good things to day on the topic, if anyone would just bother to listen.

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