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Ethanol Is Not A Good Solution To World Oil Crisis


By James Donahue


As the news leaks out about “peak” oil production and a looming world oil crisis, industry is gearing up for more and more ethanol production as a replacement for gasoline.


This might be a temporary although costly fix, but it won’t solve the world’s building ecological nightmare from noxious gases, global warming, overpopulation and excess farming. And ethanol won’t replace crude oil as an industrial lubricant or a source of a multitude of other products, including plastics, blacktopped roads and heavy greases that keep things running.


Ethanol is manufactured mostly from corn and other starchy plants like sugarcane. But it is a dirty and expensive process that spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per gallon than processing regular gasoline. When burned in our vehicles, ethanol is found to generate less energy per weight, and produce more carbon monoxide as well as other carcinogenic hydrocarbons.


That many industrialized nations, including the United States and Brazil, are already producing heavy amounts of ethanol for use as gasoline and ethanol blends in cars is not a positive trend.


In fact, China, which is moving quickly into mass industrialization and building thousands of miles of new highways, is considering ethanol as an alternative fuel for cars. Thailand also is considering this fuel.


One hot competitor in the world Le Mans 24 Hours auto race in 2004 was a Nasamax DM139-Judd, fueled by a bio-ethanol blend from sugar beets and potatoes that completed the race in 17th place. The fuel was an alcohol fuel distilled by engineers in northern France.


And French automobile makers CitroIn, Peugeot and Renault are developing engines with flex-fuel systems that are especially designed to run on alcohol fuels instead of gasoline.


And the ethanol industry is pressing hard to promote its product as a safe, clean burning fuel that should replace gasoline at the pump. It is promoting ethanol as a “100 percent clean and renewable energy” that is already selling at a cheaper price than gasoline at many world service stations.


Even the corn growers admit on their website that “a test of an ethanol plant in Minnesota indicated emissions of volatile organic compounds” and that strict and complex controls are needed during production of this fuel.


But if the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency follows the same guidelines it has been using in recent years for coal burning electric generating plants, such controls will be non-existent.


Certainly, China, Brazil and Thailand will do even less to control the pollutants emitted by their ethanol plants.


This is very bad news.


Not only are we increasing the toxic effect on an already polluted atmosphere, we are speeding up global warming and putting a heavier demand on the land for production of corn for this fuel.


As one writer put it, while fields of corn might be “less obvious than a forest of pumps on an oilfield, endless square kilometers of monoculture are disastrous for biodiversity.” Thus if there must be ethanol production, some environmental groups are pressing for the industry to obtain raw material from waste cellulose instead of growing fresh corn or sugarcane.


An environmental group organized to resist construction of ethanol plants in Wisconsin, called the Wisconsin Initiative for Sustainable Local Environments (WISLE), claims that the industrial spin doctors have lied about just how clean this fuel is.


A report by Christa Westerberg on the Fightingbob website puts the organization’s arguments in perspective:


“In a nutshell, while ethanol does reduce some tailpipe emissions it increases others and contributes to ground-level ozone and smog. Ethanol plants are environmental nightmares, emitting such pollutants as volatile organic compounds and particulate matter, in addition to a particularly strong and unpleasant odor.


“Given the vast amount of water, natural gas and other resources it takes to generate ethanol, the fuel is essentially a net energy loser. This says nothing of the resources it takes to grow the corn from which ethanol is produced, or the consequences of the monoculture required to grow it.”



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