Monday, April 21, 2014

Biofuels Flunk Another Test

Fuels from Corn Waste No Better Than Gas
Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration's conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed

While biofuels are better in the long run, the study says they won't meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.
Note that this is alcohol produce from the leftover organic biomass after the corn itself is harvested (and much of it turned into gasohol, these days).  The bulk of such wastes is cellulose, which chemically is a simple polymer of glucose, a basic sugar, which would be easy to ferment into alcohol. However, cellulose is very difficult to break into simple sugars enzymatically, which is why only a few bacteria and fungi seem to have the biochemical equipment to do it.  Cows, horses and termites (among other vegetarians) can digest some cellulose by harboring the bacteria that do it in their guts.

I don't know how they can assert "biofuels are better in the long run" if they can't do it now; it seems like a faith based assertion to me.
The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.

The biofuel industry and administration officials immediately criticized the research as flawed. They said it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and vastly overestimated how much residue farmers actually would remove once the market gets underway.
. . .
"I knew this research would be contentious," said Adam Liska, the lead author and an assistant professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "I'm amazed it has not come out more solidly until now."
It's a bit like Galileo telling the early church that the earth orbited around the sun.
"The study says it will be very hard to make a biofuel that has a better greenhouse gas impact than gasoline using corn residue," which puts it in the same boat as corn-based ethanol, said David Tilman, a professor at the University of Minnesota who has done research on biofuels' emissions from the farm to the tailpipe.
It's not about saving the earth from carbon pollution, since it's equally polluting, it's about a religious crusade against fossil fuel, combined rent seeking on part of the farm lobby.

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