T Nation

Ethanol Doubles CO2 Emissions?

At least food prices should go back down now…

[i]Studies Suggest Biofuels
Can Worsen Warming
By GAUTAM NAIK
February 7, 2008 3:01 p.m.

While the U.S. and others race to expand the use and production of biofuels, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests these gasoline alternatives will actually boost carbon-dioxide levels and thereby aggravate the problem of global warming.

A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that corn-based ethanol, instead of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by a hoped-for 20%, will nearly double the output of CO2 and other gases that trap the sun’s heat. A separate paper in Science concludes that the clearing of native habitats around the world to grow more biofuel crops will lead to more carbon emissions, not less.

Such findings could spur a big rethink on the purported benefits of biofuels, an emerging field that has already been blamed for pushing up prices of corn and other food crops, as well as straining water supplies. The European Union has proposed that 10% of all fuel used in transport should come from biofuels by 2020. In the U.S., production growth is encouraged both by high oil prices and by the hope that Congress will stiffen current rules mandating that refiners use ethanol.

Scientists have long touted the benefits of biofuels because growing biofuel feedstock would remove greenhouse gases from the air, while gasoline and diesel fuel take carbon from the ground and put it in the air. However, the earlier studies didn’t account for one hard-to-measure factor: The decision by farmers world-wide to convert forest and grasslands to grow feedstock for the new biofuels.

Such land-use changes can have big and unintended deleterious effects, such as causing food shortages and harming biodiversity. For example, when forests or grasslands are converted for agricultural use, it leads to a large, quick release of carbon when the existing plant-life is destroyed and the soil is tilled. Even if biofuels are grown on cropland previously used to grow food, farmers tend to then clear other forests and grasslands and grow the food elsewhere. The net result: More CO2 in the atmosphere, not less.

In one of the Science papers, researchers concluded that corn-based ethanol would double greenhouse gases over 30 years instead of leading to an anticipated 20% reduction. “Even if we’re dramatically wrong, it’s hard to get to a result that says you get a benefit over 50 years,” says Timothy Searchinger, a researcher at Princeton University and a co-author of the paper.

In the second study, researchers found that the potential carbon savings of biofuels �?? or the harm caused by them �?? varied hugely, depending on where and how they were produced. They calculated that growing sugarcane – a relatively efficient source of ethanol – in Brazil’s savannah releases 17 times more carbon dioxide than the CO2 that can be saved from burning the biofuel produced on that land each year. At the same time, the draining and clearing of peatlands in Malaysia and Indonesia to grow palm oil releases 420 times more CO2 than the amount saved each year from burning the resultant palm biodiesel.

David Tilman, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the second paper, said the biofuel industry needs to seek out alternative and more efficient sources for biofuels, such as manure and various kinds of waste. A researcher from the Nature Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group, was also a co-author of the study.

Their study’s funding came from the U.S. National Science Foundation and the University of Minnesota’s Initiative on Renewable Energy and the Environment, according to Mr. Tilman.

The other paper relied on funding from a variety of indirect sources, ranging from the Hewlett Foundation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In response to the papers, the Renewable Fuels Association in the U.S. conceded that “biofuels alone are not the silver bullet” for the world’s energy or environmental challenges. The group defended their use, though, saying that analyses of greenhouse-gas reductions from ethanol production show that corn-derived ethanol today reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 22% on average.

“We absolutely assert that ethanol production and use is a responsible way to address the environmental, energy and economic challenges the world faces today,” spokesman Matt Hartwig said.

Biofuels can be extremely expensive to produce. A few months ago, Richard Doornbosch, an economist at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, caused a stir by questioning whether biofuels could cut greenhouse gases in a cost-effective manner. (Though it was published by the OECD, his study didn’t necessarily reflect the views of OECD members.)

In that paper, Mr. Doornbosch noted that it costs more than $500 to avoid releasing a ton of carbon-dioxide by using corn-based ethanol, the main biofuel in the U.S. today. By comparison, tradable emission credits in the European Union are currently priced at less than $30 each. Each allowance carries the right to emit one ton of carbon dioxide.

Scientists are casting doubt on other aspects of the carbon-saving potential of biofuels. A 2007 study, co-authored by Nobel-prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, found that fertilizer used to grow corn raised emissions of nitrous oxide, an especially potent greenhouse gas.-ends-

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It is long past time to start using synthetic fuel from coal in this country.

Ethanol has been the biggest farce of the last 10 years. Everyone said it would improve gas mileage, it didn’t. They said it was good for your car, it’s not, if anything it’s harder on your engine. They said it would lower the cost of fuel, we all know how well that worked.

Good riddance.

[quote]analog_kid wrote:
Ethanol has been the biggest farce of the last 10 years. Everyone said it would improve gas mileage, it didn’t. They said it was good for your car, it’s not, if anything it’s harder on your engine. They said it would lower the cost of fuel, we all know how well that worked.

Good riddance.[/quote]

I highly doubt we will actually see the end of ethanol anytime soon. The sad thing is that you have barely scratched the surface on everything that is wrong with it.

Hemp is the world�??s most versatile plant. It can yield 10 tons per acre in four months. Hemp contains 80% cellulose; wood produces 60% cellulose. Hemp is drought resistant making it an ideal crop in the dry western regions of the country.

When farmers can grow hemp for biomass they will make a profit energy farming. Then it will not take long to get 6% of continental American land mass into cultivation for biomass fuels – enough to replace our economy�??s dependence on fossil fuels. And as the energy crop grows it takes in CO2 from the air; when it is burned the CO2 is returned to the air, creating a balanced system. We will no longer be increasing the CO2 content in the atmosphere.

And to caveat this:
Hemp grown for biomass makes very poor grade marijuana. The 20 to 40 million Americans who smoke marijuana would loath to smoke hemp grown for biomass, so no one could make a dime selling a farmers hemp biomass crop as marijuana.

So not only are we buying more pollution, but our process is inefficient:

http://www.nber.org/papers/w13753

ABSTRACT:

Tax expenditures are a major source of support for energy related activities in the federal budget exceeding direct budget support for energy by a factor of nearly six. Focusing on the policy goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum consumption, I find these tax expenditures highly cost ineffective at best and counterproductive at worse. The tax credit for ethanol is an example of a cost ineffective subsidy. The cost of reducing CO2 emissions through this subsidy exceeded $1,700 per ton of CO2 avoided in 2006 and the cost of reducing oil consumption over $85 per barrel.

“A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that corn-based ethanol, instead of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by a hoped-for 20%, will nearly double the output of CO2 and other gases that trap the sun’s heat.”

Well no shit, the only thing corn-based ethanol is good for is drinking. BIOFUELS CAN AND WILL END OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN FUELS! THE ONLY QUESTION IS WILL IT BE SOONER RATHER THAN LATER.
The answer is not ethanol. Bio-diesel and hemp can play a major role in the solution, but only if the PEOPLE demand it from the dumb fucks in charge.

[quote]buffballswell wrote:

“A study published in the latest issue of Science finds that corn-based ethanol, instead of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by a hoped-for 20%, will nearly double the output of CO2 and other gases that trap the sun’s heat.”

Well no shit, the only thing corn-based ethanol is good for is drinking. BIOFUELS CAN AND WILL END OUR DEPENDENCE ON FOREIGN FUELS! THE ONLY QUESTION IS WILL IT BE SOONER RATHER THAN LATER.
The answer is not ethanol. Bio-diesel and hemp can play a major role in the solution, but only if the PEOPLE demand it from the dumb fucks in charge. [/quote]

From what I understand Hemp is not a good choice for bio-diesel because of its low oil yield per acre.

The problem with ethanol production is that even with the best crop (sugar cane) less than 30% is used as sugar, the rest is waste. The problem is that yeast cant digest xylose/penthose ant this makes up around 40% of the total biomass. But some scientists here in Aus have created A strain of yeast that digests xylose. This means that very cheap/efficient biomass such as straw can be used. The over advantage is that biomass waste material can be used like wastepaper, grass clippings and forestry waste (Obviously there are transport costs).