April 24, 2008 (The Daily – UW) – In the rush for energy independence, U.S. policy isn’t helping. Don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe that we need to stop using Arab oil for diplomatic reasons as well as environmental ones. But government policies put in place to combat the use of oil are hurting the United States and rest of the world more than they help.
During the past few years, our government has begun subsidizing the conversion of land to grow corn for biofuel. According to a study published in the journal Science, biofuels may actually be worse for the environment than the fossil fuels they are trying to replace…
It would take 93 years for ethanol, which does in fact produce fewer greenhouse gases when burned than fossil fuels, to make up for the carbon released in that initial landscape conversion. This figure takes into account only land in the United States that has already been converted for ethanol; soy biodiesel that is grown in the Amazon rainforest will take 320 years to make up its energy debt. Ethanol may start saving the environment 400 years from now, but there must be a more effective way that we can implement now.
Another problem is that biofuels are contributing to the rising cost of crops such as corn and soybeans. It has become evident that people in less fortunate countries are suffering. Just last month, there were protests in countries including Haiti and Egypt over the price of basic foodstuffs.
Worse yet is that biofuels are taking money and attention away from research and development of more effective methods. Why isn’t there more investigation into fuel cell technology, which promises to be a clean, renewable and far less energy-intensive way to fuel our cars and light our homes?…
Yes, they will take some time to implement and will require some infrastructural changes to be made around the country, but the advantages outweigh those of biofuels. Fuel cells, and not biofuels, are a permanent solution that the United States should adopt.
Donatello: Note, however, that plug-in electric cars are more likely to be of (relatively) immediate benefit (on the pocketbook and the environment) than hydrogen fuel cells. Rechargeable battery power is much simpler to implement than hydrogen conversion from water and storage for use in fuel cells. But if fuel cells can overcome efficiency and cost issues, they may have some benefits in fuel delivery speeds, so I guess we’ll see… The biggest problem I see with electric cars is the drain on the power grid, but if the cars are generally charged at night, this may be less of a problem. At any rate, the governments should be thinking of upgrading their electrical supply, probably with new nuclear power stations (as politically difficult as that may be).