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Re: E-M:/ RE: / green plants, fossil fuels, biofuels

Enviro-Mich message from Rane Curl <ranecurl@engin.umich.edu>

On Thu, 23 Nov 2006, Sarah Alexis Westerman wrote:

I read this article with great interest because I have heard the article against corn many times. My question is, isn't corn supposed to be a small step toward lessening our oil dependency? I never assumed it to be "the answer," as we have just now begun to make advances and increase our consciousness of the issues. Is it really necessary to totally shun corn, when we could at least make minimal use of it while we continue on our search for better energy?

That being said, the article was very well-written, one of the most thorough arguments against corn I've read yet.

There have been a number of indictments of biofuels as practical future energy sources, one of the best being the following (with abstract):


The Future of Bio-fuels: A Blend of Hope and Concerns

Richard S Courtney


"Biomass is biological material used as fuel, and biofuel is biomass that has been converted into a form that makes it useful as a displacement for a fossil fuel; for example, petroleum. Biomass is solar energy collected by photosynthesis over a small area and a few growing seasons in plants that are not compressed and not dried. Simple calculations of the solar energy collection at the Earth's surface demonstrate that no developments of biomass can provide significant amounts of energy because the energy required to farm and harvest it is a substantial proportion of the collected solar energy. And biomass cannot be economic because the net amount of energy harvested can only be small. Indeed, governments would not need to subsidise bio-mass if it were an economically competitive fuel. But the production of biomass has potential for environmental damage by reducing biodiversity, and reliance on the use of biomass threatens energy security."


He does make the point that recovery of energy and products from waste biomaterials (such as paper, as well as agricultural wastes) can make environmental and economic sense. But replacing any significant fraction of our current fossil fuel use with biofuels is simply impossible.

I see research into biofuels production and use to have future value, especially in making use of biomaterial wastes. However it is more important to look to the longer range future when fossil fuels will be harder to obtain ("peak oil") or use ("global warming"), problems that cannot be solved with biofuels.

--Rane L Curl

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