Ethanol: Jobs and politics trump good sense?

The EPA’s decision to increase the allowable percentage of ethanol in gasoline to 15 percent has ignited a fiery debate among America’s mega-industrial interests. Watching the Titans queue up on their respective sides of this issue has been almost embarrassing; there are so many nakedly exposed agendas and odd alliances.
What’s not so amusing are the serious environmental consequences of both the production and combustion of ethanol. But first let’s sort out the teammates.

Union of Concerned Scientists raises questions about genetically modified corn for biofuel

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Corn-based ethanol, once a star on the alternative energy scene, has fallen from favor in the past year, battered by reports that raising corn for fuel raids the world’s pantry and that corn ethanol has a heavier carbon footprint than originally thought.

Many now argue over whether the US should continue to grow corn for fuel or make the switch to grasses that can be grown on less desirable land, with fewer pesticides and fertilizers, or use plant waste to make fuel.

Now a new debate looms: Should the US allow genetically altered corn to be grown for use as biofuel?

The Union of Concerned Scientists wants to stop that genie before it leaves the bottle, because it believes that genetically modified corn will inevitably mix with and contaminate corn grown for food products.

Jet biofuels take off; expert predicts public flights by 2012

By Julie Bonnin
Green Right Now

The first commercial air test flights using biofuels took to the sky earlier this month: First Air New Zealand, then Continental Airlines in Houston gave us a glimpse of a greener way to fly. Next up: Japanese Airline, JAL has announced a demonstration flight using a Boeing 747-300 powered by biofuel set for Jan. 30 in Tokyo.

Jennifer Holmgren is General Manager of Renewable Energy & Chemicals for Honeywell’s UOP, a refining technology developer which partnered with Continental on its landmark project. One week later, she was a keynote speaker at Petrotech 2009, an international oil and gas conference hosted by the Indian government, on the topic of emerging technologies (the conference ends Thursday).

BP Announces Plans To Run With Cleaner Biofuels

British Petroleum (BP) has announced plans to bring cellulosic ethanol to market in the U.S., through a partnership with bio-fuel developer Verenium, a company that makes biofuels from rice straw, sugarcane stalks, switchgrass and wood chips. The partnership could help speed the availability of lower cost, more environmentally friendly biofuels, according to an announcement by both companies this week.

Study Says Biofuel Crops Increase Carbon Emissions

By Barbara Kessler

The virtues of growing corn for fuel have been so widely lauded, everyone knows the formula: Convert vast corn fields to ethanol production, burn cleaner fuel, save the atmosphere and kick foreign oil. And yet this magic formula has lately been showing its flaws.

First, there was the nagging problem of all that fish habitat-destroying fertilizer being dumped on those super-size corn fields. Then came concerns that growing corn (or soybeans or sugar cane) for fuel was displacing farmland needed for food. Now, the ultimate question – Does it work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? – has been raised, and the answer isn’t what we wanted to hear.