These days, ethanol is praised as the whiz-bang cure-all for our energy ills. And maybe all the sweet talk will cause this “new” fuel to forget that America dumped her for oil in the early 20th century. Oil’s just so … ew all of a sudden. We may finally be ready to return to our first love, an energy source that’s been by our side in some form or another since Neolithic times. Oil was too high-maintenance and demanding, anyway.
And ethanol’s a much better match … right? Or maybe biodiesel is the one? Or vegetable oil? Hemp? Turkey guts?
For all the hype, most people barely know enough about biofuels to drop a line or two at a cocktail party. What is ethanol, and how’s it different from biodiesel, and where does fry grease come in? Are there cars that can run on this stuff, and who’s making them, and where can they fuel up? Who sells it, who makes money off it, and why’s it such a political darling? Does “cellulosic” ethanol actually exist in the wild? What’s the big deal with Brazil? And does Willie Nelson really run his bong on biodiesel?
We’re here to help. Biofuels — derived from recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, aka plants, animals, and poop — are back, big time. Here’s your two-week crash course.
- How the world got addicted to oil, and where biofuels will take us.
- The numbers behind ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, and biodiesel in the U.S.
- How experts measure the energy balance of alternative fuels.
- Cellulosic ethanol may be coming sooner than you think.
- A look at the impacts of biofuels production, in the U.S. and the world.
- How cash and corporate pressure pushed ethanol to the fore.
- It’s time for a real “food vs. fuel” debate.
- What Brazil can teach the U.S. about energy and ethanol.
- As its neighbors back biofuels, Central America gears up for business.
- Three perspectives on the biofuels debate.
- To fulfill its environmental promises, biofuel policy needs a kick in the pants.
- Toward a community-owned, decentralized biofuel future.
- An interview with biofuels naysayer David Pimentel.
- An environmental-justice advocate responds to the biofuels boom.
- What we’ve learned from the biofuels series.
- Using grease and other goodies, small producers are making a big difference.
- Grassroots biodiesel operations contend with industrial sand-kickers.
- How a grassroots biodiesel group can show the way for others.
- An interview with Seattle biodiesel distributor Dan Freeman.
- An interview with Greasecar founder Justin Carven.
- Richard Branson chats about embracing ethanol and slashing airplane emissions.
- Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla chats about the promise of ethanol.
- Biofuel pioneer Lee Lynd points the way toward a “carbohydrate economy.”
- An interview with Missouri farmer and ethanol co-op member Brian Miles.
- A biodiesel entrepreneur in Argentina spreads seeds of wisdom.
- Grains become fuel at the world’s first cellulosic ethanol demo plant.
- An interview with Mary Beth Stanek, General Motors energy director.
- Find out which cars can run on ethanol and biodiesel.
- All the resources you need to hop on the biofuels bandwagon.
- A handy biofuels glossary, and videos to boot.
- The what, where, and why of E85 ethanol.
- A lighthearted look at biofuels through time.
- The strangest biofuel sources you’ve never heard of.
- The top 10 reasons to give a hoot about biofuels.
- Check out the latest entries in the celeb-biofuels biz.
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Stories in this series:
Our plant supplants your plant: a real-life cellulosic ethanol refinery. Photo: Iogen Sometimes it seems virtually anything can be made into fuel. As though, if we had the right technology, we could throw together old …
Well before cellulosic ethanol became the hot new fuel, Lee Lynd was immersed in it. Since 1987, the engineering professor has been leading a major academic study group on cellulosic ethanol from his perch at …
Cultivating change? Photo: iStockphoto Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Brian Miles spends his days working the family farm. Unlike his forebears, however, he also sits on the board of Mid-Missouri Energy, a …
You’ve heard of BioWillie, Willie Nelson’s foray into the world of celebrity-branded biodiesel. But did you know that several other celebs, not to be outdone, have plans to unveil their own biofuel lines? During our …
Can U.S. farmers keep filling the nation’s bellies as they scramble to fuel its cars? Given its evident gravity, the question has drawn remarkably little debate. Like it or not, though, more and more food …
Driving down either of El Salvador’s two principal highways, you’re almost sure to end up braking behind a pickup truck that’s jammed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. Occasionally these rural taxis are new vehicles, …
Even by Argentine standards, Ricardo Carlstein can talk a blue streak. Ricardo Carlstein. I met with the founder of Biofuels SA, an Argentina-based maker of small-scale biodiesel plants, in the posh environs of Buenos Aires. …
In 2006, Brazil officially achieved “energy independence” — that is, its oil exports came into line with imports and cancelled them out. No longer beholden to foreign suppliers for its energy needs, the nation theoretically …
Sure, you’ve heard of corn and switchgrass as potential sources of biofuel. But those are rendered totally boring in light of the potential of trash, dead cats, and human fat to meet our energy needs. …
Well, here we are, at the end of Grist’s illustrious series on biofuels. We’ve thrown a lot of information at you, and we hope it’s becoming clear why biofuel production is a big, Relevant Thing …
The way that Rob Del Bueno backed into the world of biofuel almost by accident, as told in the article “Small Potatoes,” is emblematic of the way most folks get engaged in grassroots biofuel development. …
Trucks with a green hue? GM is in heaven. What a difference three bucks a gallon makes. In the past year, General Motors has rallied state and federal support to get more E85 (an 85 …
Future or folly? Photo: iStockphoto After spending much of the last several months thinking about the biofuels boom and its implications in preparation for this special series, we’ve come to a few conclusions. Like other …