Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ethanol more practical than thought?

According to an article summary on Terra Daily, some of the bright boys and girls from UC Berserkely have figured out that the previous studies on ethanol involved some pretty hefty assumptions, and were significantly more pessimistic than previously thought:
  • Ethanol's efficiency isn't as bass-ackward as assumed, and probably would do no more environmental damage than now.
  • Ethanol could become, if cellulose technology improves, a considerably more green fuel, by using all of the agricultural wastage that currently is friction in the system for farmers.
This is Good News(tm), on a variety of fronts:

  1. It means that ethanol has the potential to be a lucrative market for farmers, helping to support our agricultural base with plain-old supply and demand, rather than the effective but sledgehammerish approach currently in vogue (in more places than just the U.S.)
  2. By allowing what is effectively waste to be turned into fuel, the door gets opened up for all sorts of stuff that would normally either be landfill mass or else recycled -- the dirty truth of which being that recycling frequently comes at a higher environmental cost than widely advertised, even if it doesn't go green in terms of emissions quality, it's still a significant "green" win.


  1. Because it's a green win (or win-win if the emissions aren't too bad) and can be put in place with little adjustment to currently-existing facilities, it's unlikely to breed a "turf fight" with proponents of other political solutions such as Fischer-Tropf diesel.
  2. Since we have vast agricultural land to put to the purpose, we might not be able to become an actual energy exporter, but on an energy basis -- as opposed to a chemical/industrial one, for which we will always need oil -- this might be one of the factors that could keep the US and China from going at each others' throats. China's fuel-oil supply is militarily fragile -- very fragile -- and while it is desperately hunting for energy alternatives, currently it's forced to go to Africa for resources. Anything that diminishes that need and a) eases demand pressure on the global market, and b) provides opportunities for serious real-world cooperation, is in both national interests.
  3. We're at war with Wahhabi fanatics and potentially about to have that war extended to some of their Shiite-Madhi competitors on the global terrorism franchise scene, most of whom are essentially funded by oil. Anything that eases demand on fuel-oil hurts them directly.
  4. And, on a admittedly completely puerile note, anything that sticks a red-hot poker right into the eyes of the Saudi Arabian rulers -- who got this Wahhabi mess rolling in first place -- just gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling all over.
Between tar sands, biodiesel, ethanol, and Fischer-Tropf clean-coal energy, the U.S. may actually wind up an energy exporter, and unlike most petro-basketcases, an energy exporter based on industrial and technological know-how, rather than 19th-century-style resource mercantilism. It's not here yet, but it's coming.

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