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:
Dan Freeman. As a kid, Dan Freeman experimented with using alcohol to run lawnmowers and minibikes. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall for that parent-son conversation.) These days, he runs Dr. Dan’s Alternative Fuel Werks, a Seattle-based …
Does a music mogul who signed the Rolling Stones and Janet Jackson have what it takes to make a pop star out of biofuels? Sir Richard. Earlier this fall, publicity-chasing British entrepreneur Richard Branson made a $3 billion bet that …
With all the talk of biofuels swirling around, things can get a bit confusing. So we’ve put together this handy glossary for your reference. Now you can pontificate at cocktail parties with the best of ’em. And just to keep …
Any worthy idea can withstand and even be improved by naysayers; scolds and skeptics play the useful role of pointing out obvious flaws. The biofuels industry has no more persistent, articulate, and scathing critic than David Pimentel, professor emeritus of …
Imagine how amazing petroleum must have seemed back when it was an emerging alternative fuel in the U.S. Drill a hole in the ground in some parts of Texas and Pennsylvania, and rich black stuff would come gushing up, loaded …
Venture capitalist and ethanol booster Vinod Khosla. Billionaires are piling onto the biofuels bandwagon. Bill Gates is doing it. Richard Branson is doing it. The Google guys are doing it. Less well-known is the billionaire who kicked off the whole …
As war simmers in the Middle East and oil prices rise along with global temperatures, Midwestern farmers and politicians aren’t the only ones banging the drums for biofuels. Now big-time investors, security hawks, environmentalists, and even George W. Bush have …
President Bush visits the Virginia Biodiesel Refinery in 2005. Photo: whitehouse.gov Biofuels won’t single-handedly solve the climate crisis, nor will they deliver energy independence. But a base of widely dispersed, farmer- and citizen-owned biofuel plants can displace significant amounts of …
Justin Carven. In the span of just two years, Justin Carven invented the first waste-oil conversion kit for diesel engines, graduated from Hampshire College, drove a vegetable-oil-fueled van across the country, and started his very own company. Six years later, …