Monday, December 12, 2011

I thought biofuels were a good idea

EVEN though I'm a nuclear energy industry consultant and advocate, I recognize that the transportation sector will be reliant on liquid fuels for a long time (except maybe if widespread hydrogen production can result from the invention of solar-powered leaves

Now, burning of fossil fuels is not good for the Earth's climate future, but we have been led to believe that burning biofuels, fuels made from biologically-based feedstocks, would be fine, because the logic goes that the biological things took the CO2 out of the atmosphere, so burning them just puts the CO2 back where it was.

But this might not be such a perfect system after all.  A recent study (now, granted, this is only one study, and deserves to be examined closely) indicated that biofuels don't do what they're supposed to do.

Now, their has been a knock on corn ethanol because it requires a lot of  input to grow corn.  But supposedly stuff like switchgrass works better.  So here's what they did:

"The researchers focused on the major mandated and currently used biofuels  worldwide: corn ethanol, soybean biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol from  switchgrass grown in the United States, canola biodiesel produced in  Europe, and sugarcane ethanol produced in Brazil and exported to the  United States or Europe.

They evaluated them in terms of their contribution to reducing fossil  fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions. They also compared their costs  and effectiveness to two alternative policies: an increase in the gas tax and the implementation of energy efficiency improvements."

""Each dollar spent on energy improvement programs would be 20 times more effective in reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions than a similar cost for the corn ethanol program," Jaeger said.  "Likewise, a gas tax increase would be 21 times more effective than promoting cellulosic ethanol."

YIKES. That's not even CLOSE.

Regarding the laws to produce a certain amount of biofuel: The researchers concluded that all of these biofuel mandates  combined would reduce fossil fuel use by less than 2.5 percent,  or the same amount that a gas tax increase of 25 cents per gallon  could achieve, but at an estimated cost of $67 billion compared  with a cost of $6 billion with a gas tax."

GEEZ, order-of-magnitude!!!

So I conclude that we should a) make hydrogen, b) increase nuclear power generation, as Bill Gates is working with the Chinese to do, c) drastically work on increasing energy efficiency, on a pseudo-war footing, if necessary, and d) pass an increase in the national gas tax. 

If I was in charge, we'd be DONE already!

No comments: