Ethanol production

I was reading an article today discussing President Bush's ambitious requirements for renewable fuels in America. By 2017 he wants requirements of at least 35 billion gallons of ethanol annualy. Moving to renewable fuels certainly would be a change for the better in some aspects, but there are obvious drawbacks. Currently ethanol production is distilled from corn kernels, and the Americans are producing about 5 Billion gallons annualy. If the ethanol production were to come form corn still, that would require an extra 130,000 or so square miles of corn fields, that is a hell of a lot of corn.

There are scientists researching alternatives. Obviously a preferential plant would be one where we use more than just the seed from the plant, use the entire plant. An ideal plant would be a perennial grass, high in sugar yield to be fermented. I have heard recently of a plant native to the sub-tropics in Africa and Asia which is no more than an ornamental plant in North America. The plant is called Miscanthus for those who are interested. The yield from Miscanthus would be much higher, and it also requires less input (water most importantly).

I do have some reservations though about this biofuel craze. It shouldn't be a shock to anyone that world-wide agriculture is increasingly pressured. The arable soil across the planet is a limited resource, and is under too much pressure allready. I suppose my biggest fear is if farmers begin shifting their current modes of production towards these biofuel crops. Prices aren't great and if the farmer can make a better price with growing a biofuel crop, they'd be crazy not to switch. This could have devastating consequences if too much of the infrastructure changes, and with a world-wide growing population, needing more food, decreasing amounts of arable soil and more frequent droughts in our agricultural could pose problems.

Really this all ties into what Zzacharov has said numerous times now. Changing climate will require us to make large scale changes, as our society has set itself up around a relatively static state of operation. What happens in the further future remains to be seen and is why these climate models are so important. Accurate models should be able to guide our choices in the near future to meet these needs.

Perhaps instead of planting trees in foreign countries we should be planting more of these perrenial grasses. It doesn't necessarily have to be the Miscanthus, as growing conditions might not be favourable. I'm all for genetic engineered crops, with some reservations. I don't like how companies like Monsanto have set themselves up, but I can see many benefits. Crops that can grow in conditions with less water, will also consume carbon dioxide yearly, and can be cut back to produce fuel, could even be a very good business oportunity for the have not countries where some of the carbon credits have been being spent (note, not China...)
Last edited by Tonington; Mar 1st, 2007 at 02:49 PM..Reason: grammer
I agree with you, and this is one of the things that worry me! What if this global warming causes many changes just for the sake of change and popular vote? The economies of the world must not be destroyed in the process, this is no good if our children and grandchildren have no jobs and little food. I believe we must reduce polution, but slowly and with planning and incentives.
From what I've read in the the time you run tractors to till the soil, run tractors to seed, possibly run equipment to spray for pests, run equipment to harvest, truck the product for manufacturing, manufacture the fuel in a plant powered by electricity which comes from petro, and then truck the ethanol out to fueling stations, you've used up more petroleum than you can get ethanol out of the whole process.

Greener? Sustainable? Logical to expand? I question the wisdom of it.
Yup, that's a result of our current organization. I think that it sounds green and is also a method to reduce the reliance on foreign products. So politically it's great. In the long run, I don't like the idea of growing energy for industrial purposes instead of food products. Perhaps with new technology someday it might be more feasible, hard to say.
My main concern with conversion of cars to running ethanol is that it may lead to wasting damn good wine.
L Gilbert
Burning ethanol still releases CO into the atmosphere.

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