Ethanol and Other Biofuels
Natural Gas
Global Warming
Ethanol maker VeraSun to put 7 plants up for auction, by Dirk Lammers, Associated Press [2009 Jan 16]
"VeraSun Energy, the nation's second largest ethanol producer, is putting seven of its biorefineries up for auction as part of a bankruptcy court financing agreement."
[Something we can celebrate! Ed.]

Biofuel Could Eat Brazil's Savannas & Deforest the Amazon, Chris McGowan [2007 September 14]

"These days, when you fill up your car with a gasoline-and-ethanol blend, you are probably burning ethyl alcohol made from American corn. A few years from now, your commute may be powered by ethanol from sugar cane grown in Brazil's cerrado, a biodiversity hotspot that is the largest savanna in South America and disappearing at a faster rate than the Amazon. You may be hastening the demise of the world's largest rain forest as well. And you won't be alone: AOL founder Steve Case, film producer Steven Bing, supermarket magnate Ron Burkle, global financier George Soros, and other well-known investors (see below) could end up playing leading roles in Brazilian deforestation. Case and his colleagues are banking on Brazilian biofuel. They may be hoping to make a green investment that will help save the world, or they may just want to get a piece of the next gold rush. But they probably don't understand the importance of the cerrado, or the possible environmental consequences of their actions."
Top scientist says biofuels are scam [2007 June 10]
"THE government’s policy of promoting biofuels for transport will come under harsh attack this week from one of its senior science advisers.

"Roland Clift will tell a seminar of the Royal Academy of Engineering that the plan to promote bioethanol and biodiesel produced from plants is a “scam”.

"He will tell the seminar that promoting the use of biofuels is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions...

"Clift’s comments will amount to a direct challenge to Miliband, who has published a strategy promoting biofuels. It coincides with a surge of anger among environmentalists over the weak pledges on climate change that emerged from last week’s G8 summit..."

U.S. ethanol may drive Amazon deforestation Mongabay (includes numerous charts and graphs) [2007 May 17]
"Dr. Daniel Nepstad of the Woods Hole Research Center said the growing demand for corn ethanol means that more corn and less soy is being planted in the United States. Brazil, the world's largest producer of soybeans, is more than making up for shortfall, by clearing new land for soy cultivation."
Ethanol vehicles pose significant risk to health, new study finds (press), Effects of Ethanol (E85) Versus Gasoline Vehicles on Cancer and Mortality in the United States (paper), by Mark Jacobson, Stanford University [2007 April 18]

"Ethanol is widely touted as an eco-friendly, clean-burning fuel. But if every vehicle in the United States ran on fuel made primarily from ethanol instead of pure gasoline, the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations likely would increase, according to a new study by Stanford University atmospheric scientist Mark Z. Jacobson. His findings are published in the April 18 online edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T).

"Using ethanol-based fuel instead of gasoline would likely increase the ozone-related death rate in Los Angeles by 9 percent in 2020...

"'There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power,' he added. 'These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land—unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which will require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits.'"

Looking at Biofuels and Bioenergy, LETTERS edited by Etta Kavanagh in Science, Vol 312 [2006 June 23]
Take special note of "THE METHODOLOGICAL FLAWS IN A. E. FARRELL ..." and "IN THE NET-ENERGY ANALYSIS IN THEIR REPORT “Ethanol can contribute to energy and environmental goals” (27 Jan., p. 506), A. E. Farrell et al. do not (i) define the system boundaries, (ii) conserve mass, and, consequently, (iii) conserve energy. Most of the current First Law net-energy models of the industrial corn ethanol cycle are based on nonphysical assumptions and should be discarded...."
The Corn Farmer is Our Great Hope Addressing Global Warming, Air Pollution Health Damage, and Long-Term Energy Needs Simultaneously, by Mark Z. Jacobson, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University [2006 June 6]
"Proponents of ethanol suggest that it is a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce air pollution and address climate change. Data, computer model results, and new emission information suggest that ethanol is neither clean nor has it been shown that it can slow global warming. To the contrary, its promotion will continue the public health crisis that has resulted in thousands of premature air-pollution-related deaths and millions of cases of asthma and respiratory disease each year in the U.S. It will also divert resources from wind- and solar energy for electric power, for electric vehicles, and for electricity-derived-hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, the only solutions to global warming and air pollution simultaneously for which sufficient original resources exist (solar and wind energy) to solve these problems entirely on their own...."
Ethanol: Myths and Realities; Ten questions -- and answers -- about the fuel that's supposed to save the economy, by Alex Halperin, Business Week [2006 May 19]
"Doesn't producing ethanol on a large scale use a great deal of energy? Yes. Some ethanol skeptics have even argued that the process involved in growing grain and then transforming it into ethanol requires more energy from fossil fuels than ethanol generates. In other words, they say the whole movement is a farce.

"There's no absolute consensus in the scientific community, but that argument is losing strength. Michael Wang, a scientist at the Energy Dept.-funded Argonne National Laboratory for Transportation Research, says "The energy used for each unit of ethanol produced has been reduced by about half [since 1980]." Now, Wang says, the delivery of 1 million British thermal units (BTUs) of ethanol uses 0.74 million BTUs of fossil fuels. (That does not include the solar energy -- the sun shining -- used in growing corn.) By contrast, he finds that the delivery of 1 million BTUs of gasoline requires 1.23 million BTU of fossil fuels. [This sounds like a sales pitch. We knew oil had to be refined to produce gasoline. The energy to make ethanol is coal (global warming) and natural gas (very hard to import once domestic supplies run out). The "argument" is not losing strength. Rather, junk science is harder for the media to discern. Ed.]

"Producing ethanol could get more efficient soon as new technologies help farmers get more corn per acre of land and allow ethanol producers to get more of the fuel from the same amount of corn... "

Miles Per Cob, by Tom Daschle And Vinod Khosla, New York Times [2006 May 8]
"ON Wednesday, the White House proposed to overhaul fuel economy standards for automobiles by making them "size based" ... But a debate on Corporate Average Fuel Economy, known as CAFE, misses the point; if we are serious about reducing our dependence on imported oil, we need to shift our focus."
Life in a Grass House, by Kyle at [2006 March 7]
"Scouring the web with an eye toward understanding a bit more about the use of biomass-based ethanol as a replacement for gasoline, it has become apparent to me that there are a substantial number of "urban legends" emerging regarding the use of switchgrass as a feedstock for ethanol. More properly, these misconceptions are "rural legends," because at least from this former farm kid's perspective they arise from the fact that most people have very little connection to the land, and as such, are simply blowing a lot of wishful smoke about the details of a biomass-based fuel system. Hopefully the analysis below will shed a bit of light on the subject."
Sufferings of Brazilian Sugar Cane Workers, by Milton Maciel, former Secretary of Agriculture [2006 May 2]
"In Brazil 1 million men and women work in the sugar cane/sugar/ethanol industry. The largest part of them have permanent jobs in plantations, mills and distilleries. Around 200 000 have temporary (6 months) jobs cutting cane during the harvest time. THESE are the "suffering Brazilian sugar cane workers" ... We're going to expose their inhumane work load, health risks and low wages with details."
Cargill CEO questions whether ethanol should be priority, by Stephen Wisnefski, MarketWatch [2006 May 1]
"[T]he head of one of the world's largest agribusiness companies is skeptical that certain biofuels are the answer to the country's reliance on foreign oil.... According to Staley, even if 100% of the U.S. corn crop were used to produce ethanol, it would only replace about 20% of motor fuel. In the U.S., ethanol is made primarily from corn, while other countries use sugarcane as the main input."

Brazil's ethanol program struggles to make a dent, by Jack Chang, Knight Ridder Newspapers [2006 April 30]

"Brazil's booming ethanol industry has won international acclaim, but recent supply and pricing problems suggest that it's not the grand solution to tight oil supplies and ever-rising prices that had been hoped..."

The Real Corn-Ethanol Transportation System, by Tad Patzek [2006 April 16]

"Therefore, one would have to use the land area equal to 4.5 times the current arable land area just to satisfy the automotive gasoline use in the U.S. There would never be enough water and soil, and other environmental services to support such a mad dream."

The Real Biofuel Cycles [1 MB], by Tad Patzek [2006 March 26]

Net Yield Wood Fiber vs. Cellulose Ethanol Analysis, by Ron Swenson [2006 March 21]

Yield of Wood using Fischer-Tropsch (FT) Process
Yield of Wood using IOGen Process (

Cellulose Ethanol is ready to go, by Maurice Hladik, Iogen Corporation [2006 February 11]

"Iogen operates the world's largest pre-commercial cellulose ethanol facility..."

Ethanol Can Contribute to Energy and Environmental Goals, by Farrell et al, Science [2006 Jan 27]

"To study the potential effects of increased biofuel use, we evaluated six representative analyses of fuel ethanol..."

Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy, by Susan S. Lang [2005 July 5]

Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.

"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel," says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These strategies are not sustainable."

Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76)."

Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply Robert D. Perlack et al, a joint study sponsored by U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of Agriculture [2005 April]

Pure nonsense, but it's a very pretty report. [Ed.]
Sustainability in the Chemical Industry: Grand Challenges and Research Needs - A Workshop Report [2005]

The High Price of Natural Gas and its Impact on Small Businesses: Issues and Short Term Solutions, Subcommittee on Rural Enterprises, Agriculture, and Technology, Prepared Remarks of Mr. Terry Hilgedick, Chairman, Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, National Corn Growers Association [2005 March 17]

"Higher natural gas prices will also negatively impact this country’s growing ethanol industry. The second biggest cost in ethanol production – second to feedstock – is the cost of energy, generally natural gas. Energy costs typically make up about 15 percent of a dry-mill plant’s total costs. According to USDA’s latest crop production report, this year’s corn crop will be the largest ever and yields will increase by nearly seven bushels per acre compared to last year. When harvested, more than ten percent of that crop will be converted into ethanol. The corn industry becomes more energy efficient every year, but we still must have adequate, reliable and affordable natural gas to fuel the industry." [Ethanol is renewable?! Ed.]

Biomass as a Feedstock for a Bioeneregy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply [full report, 7 mb] [2005 March 14-16]

Ethanol from Corn:" Just How Unsustainable Is It? by Tadeusz W. Patzek, UC Berkeley [2003 Spring]

"So What Have We Achieved? We have ...
  • Burned more fossil fuels than the energy content of the ethanol from corn
  • Degraded and eroded soil on millions of acres
  • Polluted surface and groundwater with nitrates, herbicides, pesticides, and ethanol waste
  • Polluted air with CO, NOx, SO2, VOC, etc.
  • Continued to waste $ billions of taxpayers' money
  • Devised a terrible solution of air quality problems"
Last Frontier Forests: Ecosystems and economies on the edge, Dirk Bryant, Daniel Nielsen and Laura Tangley [1997]
Synopsis: Offers the first scientific assessment of the world's large, intact natural forests and graphically depicts the extent of human impacts on global forests

Other information on the web

© 1994-2011 • Ecotopia
contact info