Wednesday, May 16, 2007

On Ethanol and Chomsky

(in response to the post by Ghandisxmas.)
Chomsky's article points to a very real problem with the current ethanol industry, which is the reliance on foodstocks for ethanol production. The simple reason for this is that foodstocks are by nature high-yield sources, and therefore more profitable. Ethanol is merely fermented sugars distilled, and the more concentrated sugar in the source the greater the profit.
But there are other alternatives. All organic material can be broken down and made into ethanol. Often called "biomass" or "cellulosic" ethanol, the process involves more complexity. Therefore, it's not as easy to make a profit. Due to the huge quantity of non-food biomass, long term ethanol production will require plants designed to breakdown these materials. As oil prices rise, the market for ethanol will continue to grow. So the business of ethanol from non-food sources will expand.
One readily available source is algae, which can be grown rapidly by infusing CO2. Algae farms are a rapidly expanding industry.
Also, before Badtux stops by to lecture me on energy efficiencies, understand that ethanol is only a small stopgap measure to meet our energy needs for the short term. In the long term we need to increase energy production from a wide variety of sources, and increase the efficiency of the ways we utilize energy.

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