Ethanol-based biofuels will irreversibly harm ecology, health

December 11th, 2008 - 12:51 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 11 (IANS) Ethanol-based biofuels will irreversibly damage human health, wildlife, water supply and land use than current fossil fuels, besides emitting more global-warming pollutants, warns an expert. Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions. His findings indicate that the options getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options.

His research is particularly timely in light of the growing push to develop biofuels, which he calculated to be the worst of the available alternatives.

The Big Three Detroit automakers are increasingly touting their efforts and programmes in the biofuels realm, and federal research dollars have been supporting a growing number of biofuel-research efforts.

“The energy alternatives that are good are not the ones that people have been talking about the most. And some options that have been proposed are just downright awful,” Jacobson said.

Wind was by far the best option, Jacobson said, owing to a better-than 99 percent reduction in carbon and air pollution emissions; the consumption of less than three square km of land for the turbine footprints to run the entire US vehicle fleet (given the fleet is composed of battery-electric vehicles).

Besides, wind farms would occupy about 0.5 percent of all US land, but this amount is more than 30 times less than that required for growing corn or grasses for ethanol.

Land between turbines on wind farms would be simultaneously available as farmland or pasture or could be left as open space.

Indeed, a battery-powered US vehicle fleet could be charged by 73,000 to 144,000 five-megawatt wind turbines, fewer than the 300,000 airplanes the US produced during World War II and far easier to build. Additional turbines could provide electricity for other energy needs.

Conversely, corn and cellulosic ethanol will continue to cause more than 15,000 air pollution-related deaths in the country per year, Jacobson asserted.

In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife, said a Stanford release.

He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass.

To place the various alternatives on an equal footing, Jacobson first made his comparisons among the energy sources by calculating the impacts as if each alternative alone were used to power all the vehicles in the US, assuming only “new-technology” vehicles were being used.

Such vehicles include battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs), and “flex-fuel” vehicles that could run on a high blend of ethanol called E85.

Jacobson said his research group has already shown that by properly coordinating the energy output from wind farms in different locations, the potential problem with variability can be overcome.

The paper is scheduled for publication in Energy and Environmental Science.

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