Ethanol–What the Hell is Going on?

3 Sep

imagesFive years ago, ethanol was the toast of the proverbial town, the “green” savior that would help wean us off foreign oil, cut down on greenhouse gas emission, save the whales and every other good thing.

Then, suddenly, within the past few years, ethanol is in big trouble. Corn prices skyrocketed. Food prices went up. There were murmuring and then straight up screeds about how producing ethanol consumed more fossil fuels than it saved.

And so cellulosic ethanol–ethanol produced from non-food plants like switchgrass and corn stover (cobs)–became all the rage. But making fuel from green, non-edible plants is really expensive.

Meanwhile, a bunch of really smart people swear that algae is the answer, that growing and cultivating and breeding pond scum to produce fuel is really where it’s at.

To add yet another meanwhile, the ethanol industry stands staunchly by its product, arguing that the doomsday scenarios are overblown, that there’s plenty of grain to go around, that the industry and its technology are improving every day.

So someone, please, tell me: what the hell is going on? Which of these scenarios is on the money, which is BS? Which ethanol/biofuel technologies, if any, are most likely to emerge from the scrum?

Maybe none of them will. Or maybe biofuel will always be something of a hodgepodge. I want to find out.

Anyhow, that’s the entire point of the book: to cut through the hype and the politics and the confusing welter of competing and often shrill claims to supremacy and present a clear picture of what’s going on, and what’s most likely to happen in the near and long term future.

To add yet a third meanwhile, I listened to an excellent podcast about this today, produced by Renewable Energy World. Check it out here.

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