Ethanol pros and cons debated

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

From an AP story by Arthur Max that ran in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal:

Scientists weigh downside of palm oil

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- Only a few years ago, oil from palm trees was viewed as an ideal biofuel: a cheap, renewable alternative to petroleum that would fight global warming. Energy companies began converting generators and production soared.

Now, it's increasingly seen as an example of how well-meaning efforts to limit climate-changing carbon emissions may backfire.

Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, led a team that compared the benefits of palm oil to the ecological harm from destroying virgin Asian rain forests to develop lucrative new plantations.

His conclusion: "As a biofuel, it's a failure."

Letter to the editor to the Journal Sentinel on ethanol's pros:

Fuel's use has had a positive effect
The Journal Sentinel was dead on in pointing out in an editorial that ethanol and other renewable fuels are not the panacea for America's energy problems ("The limits of ethanol," March 26). But by focusing on the limits of ethanol, it ignored what homegrown renewable fuel is already doing to turn the tide of foreign oil dependence. America's ethanol industry is helping stem the flood of foreign oil into this country.

Ethanol today is rapidly becoming a ubiquitous part of America's motor fuel market. It is blended in 50% of the nation's gasoline and last year helped reduce foreign oil imports by more than 200 million barrels, or nearly 9 billion gallons. As important, the increase in U.S. demand for gasoline between 2005 and 2006 was met almost entirely by ethanol.

Without question, new technologies, better efficiencies and improved conservation must be the heart of the effort to break our oil addiction. But we must not lose sight of what renewable fuels like ethanol are already doing and the potential they hold for the future.

Bob Sather
Chippewa Falls

And a letter to the La Crosse Tribune on the cons:
Ethanol is not the answer
By John Klouda, La Crosse, Wis.

I’m struggling with Paul Peterson’s claims for ethanol in his letter published March 5.

Paul claims that if all cars in America burned gasoline with 10 percent ethanol (E-10), we would eliminate our dependence on foreign oil. I disagree. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2005 U.S. net petroleum imports was 4.58 billion barrels. Domestic petroleum production was 1.89 billion barrels, and petroleum consumption for transportation was 5.24 billion barrels. If we assume that all petroleum for transportation is gasoline (ignoring diesel), the blending of 10 percent ethanol yields a savings of only 0.52 billion barrels of oil. This does not wipe out the need for importing 4.58 billion barrels of petroleum.

Claiming that blending ethanol results in a 50 percent to 60 percent reduction in fossil fuel energy use doesn’t add up. According to Chevron, a gallon of regular gasoline contains 115,000 Btu of energy. A gallon of E-10 gasoline contains only 111,000 Btu.

So, for the energy equivalent of a gallon of regular gasoline, 1.04 gallons of E-10 is required. That 1.04 gallons of E-10 contains 0.93 gallons of regular gasoline. So, from an energy content standpoint, the use of E-10 yields only a 7 percent reduction in fossil fuel use, not 50 percent to 60 percent.

Claiming that ethanol- blended fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions 35 percent to 46 percent doesn’t wash either. Assuming that the ethanol part of E-10 produces no greenhouse gas emissions, it seems that greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by only 10 percent, not 35 percent to 46 percent.

Paul, give me some numbers to back up your claims.