Economist Article on Biofuels

Economist: Ethanol, schmethanol. ‘Everyone seems to think that ethanol is a good way to make cars greener. Everyone is wrong.
SOMETIMES you do things simply because you know how to. People have known how to make ethanol since the dawn of civilisation, if not before. Take some sugary liquid. Add yeast. Wait. They have also known for a thousand years how to get that ethanol out of the formerly sugary liquid and into a more or less pure form. You heat it up, catch the vapour that emanates, and cool that vapour down until it liquefies.

The result burns. And when Henry Ford was experimenting with car engines a century ago, he tried ethanol out as a fuel. But he rejected it — and for good reason. The amount of heat you get from burning a litre of ethanol is a third less than that from a litre of petrol. What is more, it absorbs water from the atmosphere. Unless it is mixed with some other fuel, such as petrol, the result is corrosion that can wreck an engine’s seals in a couple of years. So why is ethanol suddenly back in fashion? That is the question many biotechnologists in America have recently asked themselves.’

Add to the discussion (September 29): Reuters: Many biofuels have more climate impact than oil. ‘Most crops grown in the United States and Europe to make “green” transport fuels actually speed up global warming because of industrial farming methods, says a report by Nobel prize winning chemist Paul J. Crutzen.

The findings could spell particular concern for alternative fuels derived from rapeseed, used in Europe, which the study concluded could produce up to 70 percent more planet-warming greenhouse gases than conventional diesel.

The study suggested scientists and farmers focused on crops, which required less intensive farming methods, to produce better benefits for the environment.’

Report: N2O release from agro-biofuel production negates global warming reduction by replacing fossil fuels (PDF), P. J. Crutzen, A. R. Mosier, K. A. Smith, and W. Winiwarter, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 7, 11191–11205, 2007.


  1. Wow, I didn’t have a clue.

    I’ve read something about the effects is having on farming but … never heard this view before.

    As we say in Spain, Not everything that shines is Gold.

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