Gallery C

Polluting Our Air
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Setback For The Biofuel Industry
By James Donahue

The rush to find alternative fuels for gasoline burning vehicles has been leading to the production of ethanol from corn now the past 40 years. Ethanol was first mixed with gasoline at the pump in the 1970s and the production of ethanol as an alternative fuel was supported after the passage of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1992.
The use of ethanol was made in an effort to reduce carbon monoxide emissions. Also a substance in the old method of producing gasoline, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was found to be contaminating the groundwater.
The agricultural industry promoted the development of ethanol plants because as oil prices were rising, ethanol could be manufactured and sold at a competitive price. At last count there were 216 ethanol plants operating in the United States and nearly all of them competing for the farm production of corn and sorghum. This has been forcing up the price of corn for livestock feed and human food production.

The experimentation with alternative sources of biofuels has been continuing. In recent years there has been a lot of interest in the use of field scraps, the stalks left following the harvest of corn, as another way of producing engine fuel. The production of cellulosic biofuels looked so promising that the Obama Administration set a target of 1.75 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel production for this year and doled out over a billion dollars in subsidies to help make it happen.

Now, however, a new study published in Nature Climate Change, has shown that this new fuel released even more greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline. Thus the money and energy spent in developing and producing this particular alternative fuel for the nation’s cars appears to have been a boondoggle.
The money might have been better spent on developing new and improved public transportation systems and high-speed rail. If non-polluting fuels for our automobiles, trucks and pleasure vehicles can’t be found, perhaps it is due time for us to learn to rely on public transportation to move from place to place.

The problem, however, is that there has been little effort to develop high speed rail and improved bus service in the United States.