New coal-powered ethanol plant a sign of things to come

Greens leery about jumping on the biofuels bandwagon have new reason for trepidation: An ethanol plant that opened last December in Iowa is burning 300 tons of coal a day to transform corn into ethanol … in order to beat global warming. Mmm, taste the sweet, sweet irony! The plant is no anomaly: The biofuels business is booming, with 30 to 40 facilities under construction and 150 more on the drawing board, and “[i]t’s very likely that coal will be the fuel of choice for most of these new ethanol plants,” says Robert McIlvaine, who has compiled a database of new and planned plants. An analysis in the journal Science found that if all 190 of the ethanol plants in question ran on coal, it would reduce America’s greenhouse-gas emissions by exactly … zilch. How does the biofuels industry answer this environmental concern? By waving the scepter of always-just-over-the-horizon cellulosic ethanol. We feel tons better.