A Short Essay on Biofuels and Related Matters | The Big Biofuels Blog
Photo provided by Flickr
Three Essays on Biofuels, Drought, Livestock, and the Environment
Despite what we are being told – that if we just fund research into X or Y project, it will inevitably lead to the creation of X or Y technology that operates precisely as we want it to – that’s simply not how scientific research works. In the case of corn ethanol, we have been funding the ethanol lobby for decades to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and we still can’t get a definitively positive EROEI. If, as writer Aaron Newton points out, American presidential elections did not begin in Iowa, it is unlikely that we would have invested as much as we have already in what may well be a losing proposition. It is possible that research could improve the energy return of biodiesel or ethanol. It is also quite possible that it cannot. Our use of biofuels must emphasize net energy gains, and before we invest billions, we should be absolutely certain of what we’re getting. I will assume for the purposes of this essay that we can achieve a positive and significant EROEI, but it is important to realize that that may not be the case. Long term strategic planning for our society cannot be based on a fuel that is going to be more costly and less available at approximately the same rate as fossil fuels, because of its dependence upon them. That is, if we rely on ethanol to replace fossil fuels, and in fact ethanol is a net energy loser, we will have done nothing to improve our situation, and wasted time and money. For example, at present rates of efficiency, if we were to produce 10% of our fuel energy from biofuels, we make exactly 0 reduction in our need for imported oil, while using up 20% of our existing farmland and the grain it produces. This is not exactly an energy revolution.
Essay on biofuels | Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce
Now there are quite a few people who dispute this reasoning, and argue that the issue of food or fuel is more complicated than it appears. In an essay posted on the “Journey To Forever” website, Keith Addison and Midori Hiraga post an extremely cogent , which nonetheless has some weaknesses that deserve further analysis. For example, the authors observe that Brazil’s grain production did not fall with the introduction of sugarcane ethanol, and claim that increases in hunger in Brazil were due to policy problems. And some of that may be true. But as noted above, Brazil is a poor parallel in many ways, because of its low consumption; producing as much sugarcane ethanol as Brazil (which would be difficult, given that much of the US is not suited to sugarcane production) would provide the smallest drop in our gigantic bucket. And there are other, more disturbing issues. It is true that Brazil’s grain production did not fall after the introduction of ethanol – but it is also true that that is because Brazil has been encouraging massive stripping of the rainforests in order to grow grain. So the reason Brazil was able to keep its grain yields up was because it was transforming rainforests into crop land at the same time that it was turning farmed land into ethanol. This was only possible because Brazil had rainforest to exploit, and could not afford to care about the environmental consequences either for Brazil or for the world as a whole. For nations without rainforests remaining to slash and burn, biofuels will exact a cost in food sufficiency. Addison and Hiraga acknowledge rising food prices, but say,
Photo provided by Flickr