Posts Tagged 'ethanol'

Food For Biofuel? Wrong.

 While President Bush and the biofuel industry are happy with the growth of biofuel, Columbia economics professor Jeffrey Sachs is not. Neither, it seems, are millions in the world currently starving who weren’t starving prior to the push for biofuel. The food riots in at least eight countries over skyrocketing food prices may have been our first clue.

A full third of U.S. corn is now being used not for food but for fuels like ethanol. This is not about classic capitalism, the free market and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. The U.S. government subsidizes the growth of that corn.

President Bush and the biofuel industry deny a cause-effect relationship between subsidizing vast amounts of food crops to make fuels like ethanol and sharply increasing worldwide food prices. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has determined there is a cause-effect relationship between food-based biofuel, rising food prices and starvation.

Who is more objective in their assessment: a highly profitable industry and the politician subsidizing it, or a world-renowned economist and expert on poverty — a person not being subsidized, elected or paid by special interests to say or do anything in particular?

Sustainability has a triple bottom line: environment, economy and equity, as in social equity. Growing food for biofuel violates social equity altogether (and isn’t good for the environment or economy, either). In my view, growing and using food for fuel is wasteful, greedy and plain wrong.

Note that I said both growing and using. The greed is just as much on the part of consumers as producers — and we can climb out of our greed and consume fuels with more integrity and more joy. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, remember that biodiesel made from recycled restaurant vegetable oil is a different animal from the biofuel discussed here. See Heating Our House With Biodiesel.

Also coming up soon: our final decision on which hybrid car we’re buying.

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Biodiesel Now Yielding 3.5 to 1?

Some folks are familiar with how we heat our home with biodiesel, with real success. The kind we use is made from vegetable oil that had its first life in restaurants, (and is usually discarded in places less funky and sustainable than Oregon). All of which is another reason I love living here.

My understanding had been that traditional (not recycled) biodiesel was not sustainable, i.e. uses so many fossil-fuel inputs it’s no improvement over just using, for instance, petroleum. But yesterday I read biodiesel yields 3.5 to 1 according to newer research.
I’d like to hear other people’s evaluation of this report, since the author is the National Biodiesel Board. They’re assuming soybeans as the source.

Biodiesel is different from ethanol, and it’s taken me awhile to understand the difference. Ethanol is made from corn, which strictly speaking is a renewable resource. However, agribusiness uses ENORMOUS fossil-fuel inputs to grow that corn. I think ethanol takes us down the wrong trail altogether.

For one thing, growing food to feed gas-tanks when millions in the world are either starving or without food security is unethical. For another, to think that ethanol can move us toward energy independence from the Mideast I’m afraid it is a wet dream born of addiction to the fossil-fuel-based way we are living in the U.S. As Thom Hartmann writes so lucidly in his book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, we have to start living differently, consuming differently, than we are doing.

What I maintain is that in many cases, we can be happier in the process. More tomorrow.

Heating Our House With Biodiesel

I got up at 5 this morning and immediately put on my fleece pants, top and socks. (It’s a bummer that fleece is so great when it’s derived from petroleum). I was still cold so I turned the heat on — not petroleum.

Thor and I have almost pure biodiesel (B99) in our oil furnace. We bought it from Star Oil, who bought it from SeQuential Biofuel. So we’re heating our house with used vegetable oil from restaurants and Kettle Foods. Recycling on a new level. And it reduces our home heating’s carbon dioxide emissions by 73%.

Our only claim to any sacrifice here is that we paid slightly more for biodiesel, and have had some fuel pump challenges. If you know where to find a fuel pump specifically designed for B99, please tell me where in the comment section below.

Biodiesel, I have finally figured out, is a different animal from ethanol, with a much lower carbon footprint. I’ll devote a future post to that. But right now, I have to work on firming up my carpool plans for my first day of work at ODOT on Tuesday.