Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More on the second-generation biofuel scam

Counterpunch has more on what I think ought to be a bigger story: the ongoing failure of subsidized "green" energy sources. This one's about cellulosic ethanol, an "advanced" or "second-generation" biofuel, which promises all the energy independence and environmental cred that the first ethanol (corn ethanol) boasted (of course, it had neither), with the added benefit that it's not produced from food crops so it won't cause food prices to spike across the world (also not entirely true). Anyway, here is the article, and here is an earlier article in Counterpunch about basically the same thing (though I think the more recent one is better).

Here's a pretty long excerpt about the eternal promise that commercially viable non-food biofuels are "just around the corner":

Of all the people on that list, Lovins has been the longest – and the most consistently wrong – cheerleader for cellulosic fuels. His boosterism began with his 1976 article in Foreign Affairs, a piece which arguably made his career in the energy field. In that article, called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?” Lovins argued that American energy policy was all wrong. What America needed was “soft” energy resources to replace the “hard” ones (namely fossil fuels and nuclear power plants.) Lovins argued that the U.S. should be working to replace those sources with other, “greener” energy sources that were decentralized, small, and renewable. Regarding biofuels, he wrote that there are “exciting developments in the conversion of agricultural, forestry and urban wastes to methanol and other liquid and gaseous fuels now offer practical, economically interesting technologies sufficient to run an efficient U.S. transport sector.”

Lovins went on “Some bacterial and enzymatic routes under study look even more promising, but presently proved processes already offer sizable contributions without the inevitable climatic constraints of fossil-fuel combustion.” He even claims that given enough efficiency in automobiles, and a large enough bank of cellulosic ethanol distilleries, “the whole of the transport needs could be met by organic conversion.”

In other words, Lovins was making the exact same claim that Midgley made 45 years earlier: Given enough money – that’s always the catch isn’t it? – cellulosic ethanol would provide all of America’s transportation fuel needs.

The funny thing about Lovins is that between 1976 and 2004 -- despite the fact that the U.S. still did not have a single commercial producer of cellulosic ethanol -- he lost none of his skepticism. In his 2004 book Winning the Oil Endgame, Lovins again declared that advances in biotechnology will make cellulosic ethanol viable and that it “will strengthen rural America, boost net farm income by tens of billions of dollars a year, and create more than 750,000 new jobs.”

Lovins continued his unquestioning boosterism in 2006, when during testimony before the U.S. Senate, he claimed that “advanced biofuels (chiefly cellulosic ethanol)” could be produced for an average cost of just $18 per barrel.

6 comments:

Bhuvan Chand said...

nice article. I'm regular reader of you blog. I also started by blog on fossil fuels.

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