SciAm op-ed: Kill biofuels to solve the food crisis

With the Senate successfully passing an amendment to end the 45-cent-per-gallon ethanol subsidy for American refiners and the 54-cent tariff on imported ethanol, I thought I'd point to this terrific op-ed in Scientific American on how to solve the food crisis. According to author Timothy Searchinger of Princeton University, it's the biofuels, stupid.

Introducing the booze-fueled power plant

Bourbon's birthday was yesterday, but if you're anything like me, you're still celebrating. So you'll be glad to know that whisky -- we'll go with the Scottish spelling, because this is happening in Scotland -- is the newest addition to the Unlikely Biofuels Club. Helius Energy is building a 7.2-megawatt plant in Scotland that will run off of waste from whisky distilling. Isn't that so much classier than powering your car with Four Loko?


The House wants to slow the military’s clean energy march

Cross-posted from the Center for American Progress. The Department of Defense is the largest energy consumer in the nation. It has made significant efforts to wean the military services from their sole dependence on fossil fuels — particularly jet and diesel fuel made from oil — to power their planes, ships, and vehicles. Pollution from burning these fuels contributes to global warming, which, according to military leaders, is a “threat multiplier” for national security. Instead, the services are developing more efficient aviation, naval, and terrestrial heavy equipment, and various cleaner domestic advanced biofuels.[1] Unfortunately, the House Armed Service Committee’s National …

Some biofuels worse than dirtiest fossil fuels

If you fuel your truck with biodiesel made from palm oil grown on a patch of cleared rainforest, you could be putting into the atmosphere 10 times more greenhouse gasses than if you’d used conventional fossil fuels. It's a scenario so ugly that, in its worst case, it makes even diesel created from coal (the "coal to liquids" fuel dreaded by climate campaigners the world over) look "green." The biggest factor determining whether or not a biofuel ultimately leads to more greenhouse-gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels is the type of land used to grow it, says a new study …

Critical List: Biofuels kinda suck, biomass kinda sucks, Toys ‘R’ Us embraces solar

The Fish and Wildlife Service has promised to evaluate the endangered status of 251 species in the next six years, if only so those pesky enviros will be quiet for a bit. The country's largest rooftop solar-energy field will be installed in New Jersey, at a Toys "R" Us distribution center. No word on when the Barbie Dream House will go green, though. Three senators released a bill that would cut subsidies to oil companies. Don't pat yourself on the back for flying on a plane that uses biofuels: If the fuel comes from palm oil grown on land converted …

Biofuel from pond scum could replace 17 percent of imported oil

Good news: Growing algae for biofuel could allow us to replace almost half our oil imports! Bad news: It would take a ginormous amount of water and land. Better news: Even if we plan the algae farming in a water-conscious, environmentally responsible way, we can still replace 17 percent of imported oil with biofuel. That's a pretty good compromise! Algae makes for a better biofuel alternative than corn — it can produce 80 percent more oil per hectare, it uses roughly the same amount of water, and using it for fuel doesn't mean taking food out of anybody's mouth. Plus, …

Europe to turn Africans into fuel

After discovering the disastrous consequences of turning its own food crops into fuel, China has turned to cassava — mostly from southeast Asia — as a source for biofuels. Europe, meanwhile, is buying up tracts of "marginal land" in Africa in order to grow jatropha for biofuels. In the U.S., of course, it's corn for ethanol. The developed world's modest proposal is this: Take calories that might otherwise have gone to feed humans or their livestock, and turn them into energy to fuel our motor vehicles instead. In theory, say advocates of biofuel, next-generation fuels will be made from crops …

Obama to reduce oil imports by a third via magic

Obama's energy speech today promises to be mostly a re-hash of previous administration announcements regarding efforts to make America more energy independent, but at least one bombshell has already been leaked by the White House: Obama wants to reduce America's oil imports by a third in 10 years. It's hard to think of anything — short of an economic crash bigger than any ever seen in U.S. history, or perhaps an alien race forcing all of us to take to our bicycles — that could conceivably accomplish such a goal. The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects that we will import …

Energy Policy

Obama’s energy security plan lacks imagination, ambition, stones

[UPDATE: Obama has delivered the speech. It was indeed weak-ass and deserving of an overall thumbs down, but there are more complexities to be analyzed, which I'll get into in a subsequent post.] Today, President Obama will deliver an address at Georgetown University on the subject of energy security. This is, potentially at least, an incredibly rich subject area. It is littered with facts and trends that few Americans understand. Framed properly, it could help voters re-imagine America’s place in a resource-constrained, climate-heated world. It could help lay the foundation for cross-cutting and unconventional political coalitions centered around military readiness …

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