Category — Ethanol and biofuels
“Although we strongly support policy efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and health-damaging air pollution from fossil fuels, we are concerned that the PTC includes support for biomass combustion technologies that both contribute to climate disruption and threaten public health.”
- Letter of December 11, 2012, to Senate and House Leaders from 40 environmental-related organizations (reprinted below)
Biomass energy has been called the air emission renewable. Technical studies have concluded that energy made from plants and woody matter can require so much (fossil) energy and stir up release of carbon dioxide as to negate CO2 reduction.
This problem has been long recognized in the environmental community. “Although biomass is a renewable resource, much of it is currently used in ways that are neither renewable nor sustainable,” stated Chris Flavin and Nicholas Lenssen in 1994. 
In 2001, the International Energy Agency (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2001), concluded:
Biomass energy is generally considered to be CO2-neutral, as long as it is consumed in a sustainable manner, i.e., the stock of biomass does not diminish. This is not the case in many developing countries, where over-consumption of biomass fuels leads to deforestation and hence to the reduction of forest-based CO2 sinks. 
And the debate/controversy continues. Last week, a letter to the House and Senate leadership from 40 left-of-center environmental-related nonprofits, groups, and businesses urged that biomass be excluded should the renewable-energy Production Tax Credit be extended past its year-end expiration date.
December 19, 2012 No Comments
One of the reasons governments have been pushing biomass burning is the notion that it would displace fossil fuels and thereby reduce CO2 emissions. Biomass is renewable and displaces fossil fuels. But would it reduce CO2 emissions?
Fossil Fuels: Ancient Storage
In Batteries from the Carboniferous, I noted that fossil fuels are Nature’s ancient method of storing solar and photosynthetic energy in the ground. Inadvertently, fossil fuels have served as a multimillion year old storage battery, which sat in the ground because no species had learned to use it efficiently until human beings figured out how in recent centuries.
Because using it releases a number of pollutants, however, fossil fuels are a somewhat imperfect battery. These pollutants are: particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, various hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide (the latter two if combustion is less than 100% efficient). [Note: CO2 is not in my list of pollutants. It is the stuff of life, rather than a pollutant. You, dear reader, are 18% carbon, virtually all of which originates in CO2 in the atmosphere. Don’t try to go without carbon!]
In order to figure out whether burning biomass rather than fossil fuels would reduce atmospheric CO2 emission, consider the following analogy. [Read more →]
September 21, 2011 8 Comments
[Ken Glozer's new book, Corn Ethanol: Who Pays, Who Benefits?, sponsored and published by Hoover University Press, will be released this month. Mr. Glozer is president of OMB Professionals, a Washington, D. C. based energy consulting firm. He was a senior executive service career professional with the White House Office of Management and Budget in the energy, environment, and agriculture area for 26 years.]
“Clearly, reducing petroleum imports with the current ethanol policy is a costly ineffective policy. The nation and its taxpayers and consumers would be far better off if the federal government adopted a competitive market-reliance policy for ethanol and thereby avoided the very substantial costs that current ethanol policy has imposed on the nation’s consumers and taxpayers. The current corn ethanol policies should be phased out over a year or two.”
My new book provides detailed a political history of how the United States ended up with current federal corn ethanol policy.
Part I relates the significant external events that have driven the politics that in turn has driven the policy since 1977. I address important questions about when the policy started, how it evolved, what were the major political and market forces that drove it, and, most important, who were the key officials that formed and shaped the policy.
Part II of the book contains an in-depth objective evaluation of the major claims made by those who have advocated the ethanol policies during the past thirty years. I probe how well the ethanol policy has worked compared to the claims made by two presidents, three federal agencies, and the corn, soybean growers, and ethanol producers.
The book evaluates the Renewal Fuels Standard (RFS), which was first enacted in 1975 then doubled, to a mandatory 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol blended into the nation’s gasoline supplies. The surprising finding—that federal ethanol policy has little to do with energy and everything to do with wealth transfer—is particularly compelling because, after three decades of federal subsidies, trade protection and most recently mandated ethanol blending, ethanol remains uneconomical.
According to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, ethanol never has and never will have a significant impact on petroleum imports compared to what could be achieved under a competitive market policy. Thus my sober conclusion: taxpayers and consumers are the victims of the current policy in that they have no choice but to pay and pay.
From the Preface [Read more →]
May 9, 2011 8 Comments
End the Ethanol Subsidies! (Congressional inaction would save taxpayers $6 billion, and bring other benefits too)
What am I missing? Is there some aspect of our inane energy policies that I am failing to understand, much less appreciate?
“We the People” just booted a boatload of spendthrifts out of Congress, after they helped engineer a $1.3 trillion deficit on America’s FY-2010 budget and balloon our cumulative national debt to $13.7 trillion.
And the “bipartisan White House deficit reduction panel” chimed in with a 50-page draft proposal, offering suggestions for $3.8 trillion in future budgetary savings. The proposal targets $100 billion in Defense Department weapons programs, healthcare benefits and overseas bases. It also proposes a $13-billion cutback in the federal workforce and lining out $400 million in unnecessary printing costs.
Yet, amazingly, not even this independent commission was willing to eliminate the $6-billion sacred cow of annual ethanol subsidies! The current 45-cents-per-gallon tax credit for blending ethanol into gasoline automatically expires December 31, as does the 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol. So all senators and congressmen need to do is nothing, and beleaguered taxpayers will save six billion bucks.
We can only hope. [Read more →]
November 23, 2010 4 Comments
For months, the corn ethanol industry has been pushing the Obama administration for permission to increase the amount of ethanol that can be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply.
But the ethanol industry’s opponents are launching a counterattack. And it’s a big one. Last week, a coalition of 36 groups sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate asking them to reject “any attempt to attach a mid?level ethanol authorization amendment during the Senate’s consideration of energy legislation in the coming weeks and months. Such an amendment would be bad for consumers, bad for safety, bad for the environment, and, by placing politics over sound science, bad public policy.”
The group, which has dubbed itself FollowTheScience.org, may be the oddest coalition in modern American politics. Indeed, the ethanol scam is so offensive that it has united groups ranging from the American Petroleum Institute and the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, to the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
Members of the coalition include:
American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI)
American Lung Association
American Meat Institute (AMI)
American Petroleum Institute (API)
American Sportfishing Association (ASA)
American Watercraft Association (AWA) [Read more →]
August 9, 2010 3 Comments
“[Government] intervention that impinges on complex market forces can produce both unpredicted and unpredictable results.”
- Robert Bradley, Oil, Gas, and Government: The U.S. Experience (vol. 2), p. 1791.
Of all the environmental boondoggles of recent years, the biggest must be corn ethanol. As MasterResource’s Ken Green wrote in an article summarizing ethanol’s impact on the environment:
Contrary to popular belief, ethanol fuel will do little or nothing to increase our energy security or stabilize fuel prices. Instead, it will increase greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollutant emissions, fresh water scarcity, water pollution (both riparian and oceanic), land and ecosystem consumption, and food prices.
In a recent speech, Green elaborated, pointing out
the absolute fiasco of corn ethanol, which has caused increases in air pollution, water pollution, freshwater consumption, coastal pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and food prices.
In 1997, the U.S. GAO found that the ethanol production process produces more nitrous oxide and other powerful greenhouse gases than does gasoline production. A decade later, Colorado scientists Jan Kreider and Peter Curtiss concluded that carbon dioxide emissions in the production cycle are about 50 percent higher for ethanol than for traditional fossil fuels.
Making ethanol from cellulosic plants such as switch grass won’t help. In fact, researcher Timothy Searchinger and colleagues calculated that ethanol from switch grass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent compared to using regular gasoline. [Read more →]
December 7, 2009 6 Comments