Thursday, April 12, 2007

Out of the CO2 frying pan, into the Ethanol fire.

A few days ago my ‘significant other’ asked if ethanol was really a less polluting fuel than regular gas. This is a bit of a trick question, since the trump card for ethanol is reduced CO2 emissions, and CO2 is not a pollutant.

A little research shows at best an even trade-off between the two. The Organic Consumers Association states the following:

[Ethanol] gets significantly lower miles per gallon, necessitating more frequent fill-ups. Ethanol's also more expensive than gasoline, and, as a blend, contributes to its high price.

Other downsides: Corn ethanol does reduce atmosphere-warming carbon emissions, but environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club say it actually is worse than gasoline in making smog. Meanwhile, builders of the nearly 200 ethanol manufacturing facilities under construction or planned are being tempted to power their facilities with coal. That's because it's less expensive than their current choice, natural gas. Coal power would wipe out or reduce the greenhouse gains of ethanol.

Ethanol may be a good political pitch to the farm states, but there’s no environmental upside. It might make things worse, in fact. If reducing automobile emissions of CO2 a few percentage points will have no impact on climate (as the science leads me to conclude), ethanol blends could make things worse, not better.

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