Are biofuels a solution to global energy needs?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115273200716788.jpg’, ‘Photo by Rebecca Pierson’, ‘Biofuel vehicles, such as this biodiesel Dodge Ram 2500 displayed at last year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, are not seen as a long-term energy solution.’);

While part of energy future, biofuels are not seen as a long-term solution

As federal government fails to take action, local communities implement ways to limit emissions

In June, the Environment Ministry of Japan announced that, beginning in 2010, all new cars will be designed to run on a blend of 10 percent ethanol and 90 percent gasoline. By 2030, all cars in Japan are expected to run on the ethanol blend. The effort is designed to reduce greenhouse gas releases while also reducing dependence on imported oil.

Commercial ethanol production from sugar cane will be expanded on Miyako island with the intent of providing sufficient ethanol blend to power the 20,000 cars now on the island. According to an article by Hans Greimel of the Associated Press, technological improvements will be developed to lower production costs before expanding production throughout the country.

Just a few days after the press release, we received a request to help arrange a tour of an ethanol plant in Illinois for a delegation of 20 Japanese researchers and manufacturers. The delegation will be headed by Dr. Kunio Yashikawa, director of Japan Energy and a leading authority on bio-ethanol in Japan. Dr. Yashikawa will provide an overview of ethanol production in Japan to plant officials willing to host the group.

Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, have gained global political support as a means to both lower carbon dioxide emissions and reduce oil imports. While biofuels will be a part of our energy future, they are not seen as the long-term solution to transportation fuel needs. Even if all current cropland in the United States grew plants for ethanol, we would not have enough fuel to supply all the cars and trucks on American streets and roads today.

Dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency are essential and possible today with existing technology. A vehicle fleet average of 40 miles per gallon is both feasible and essential. According to Julia Olmstead, a 1-mile-per-gallon improvement in fuel efficiency in our vehicles would cut fuel consumption by an amount equal to all federally-mandated ethanol production for 2012. A 1 percent gain in mileage is attainable merely by keeping tires properly inflated.

Illinois has joined 11 other states in a legal effort before the U.S. Supreme Court to force the U.S. EPA to limit carbon dioxide releases from car and truck tailpipes. This can also be done by increasing fuel efficiency.

With our federal government’s failure to take appropriate action to limit carbon dioxide releases, local communities and individuals are implementing cost-effective actions to limit their emissions. Each individual and community action serves as a demonstration of feasibility.

Driving less, carpooling more, using mass transit and making homes energy efficient decreases our carbon releases, saves money and keeps more energy dollars in our homes and communities. There will be a full range of efficiency, solar, geothermal and wind energy workshops and displays at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy & Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 12-13 at Ogle County Fairgrounds. Alternatively-fueled vehicle displays will include electric and hybrid electrics, E-85s, biodiesel-fueled and vehicles converted to running on used cooking oils.

Electricity for this year’s fair will be supplied by Community Energy, which will purchase 4,300 kWh of wind power on the fair’s behalf. “The estimated environmental benefit is equivalent to planting 325 trees or not driving 4,100 miles per year,” according to Community Energy, Inc..

Major sponsors for this year’s fair include The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and ComEd, An Exelon Company.

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

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