Science says: Ethanol good on energy, not so much on environment
The "Findings" column on WaPo has this cryptic tidbit:
Ethanol — alcohol produced from corn or other plants — is more energy-efficient than some experts had realized, and it is time to start developing it as an alternative to fossil fuels, researchers said yesterday.
Although some critics have said the push for ethanol is based on faulty science and mostly benefits the farm lobby, several reviews and commentaries published today in Science argue otherwise.
“We find that ethanol can, if it is made correctly, contribute significantly to both energy and environmental goals. However, the current way of producing ethanol with corn probably only meets energy goals,” said Alexander Farrell of the University of California at Berkeley. [my emphasis]
That sent me to Science, but of course I can’t read it without a subscription. It does have this short description of the week’s contents:
With fossil-fuel supplies steadily waning, recent research has focused on using plant-derived materials as a renewable substitute (see the Editorial by Koonin). Ragauskas et al. (p. 484) review progress in this area, ranging from plant genetics research for enhancing supply to enzymatic and other catalytic methods for breaking down the biomass into practical fuels and fine chemical precursors. Some of the economic challenges and benefits of changing the production infrastructure on such a large scale are also addressed. Ethanol is a renewable resource already in use as a liquid fuel, but its production from corn and cellulose is energy intensive, and some analyses have found that the overall process uses more energy than it creates. Farrell et al. (p. 506) rigorously analyzed a variety of relevant investigations, and found that the studies reporting negative net energy values are flawed. All of the studies show that current corn ethanol technologies reduce petroleum use significantly relative to gasoline. However, new production methods are needed if fuel ethanol is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly.
Anybody get Science? Want to send me a copy?
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