Biofuels: the debate matures

The impact of climate change on our environment now seems to be the biggest subject around. I really don’t see how anyone can credibly deny the existence of global warming and its principal causes. It’s everywhere in the news around us, from Al Gore and friends winning the Nobel Peace Prize, more record oil prices, increased CO2 emissions from shipping to increased polar ice melting.

The move away from oil to power our vehicles is the biggest discussion of the moment and what is going to replace it.

There is no definitive answer to the question and I doubt there ever will be. Whatever we use, we will be using up some of the world’s resources – we just have to try to make sure that we are not simply creating new problems on a scale to rival those we already have.

The October issues of NatGeo and Wired both feature biofuels as the cover story. Both do a good job of highlighting the risks and problems faced by those who want us to run our cars on ethanol. There are many crops can be used for ethanol production – corn, sugarcane, soybeans, grasses. This raises questions about how much land it will take to produce the amount of fuel we require – the impact on the environment of land-use change, increasing food prices and more…

There are other sources for ethanol production – wood chip, household rubbish…Then you have others who think ethanol isn’t the best solution anyway. Hybrids, hydrogen, electricity from cleaner renewable sources, butanol(?), algae, termite guts (lovely…) all have their fans. Technology Review’s section on biofuels is good covering these options.

This is only the beginning, let’s see where we are in another five years. Let’s hope it’s not too late already.

• National Geographic: Growing Fuel The Wrong Way, The Right Way

• Wired: Switch. One Molecule Could Cure Our Addiction to Oil

• Technology Review: Biofuels special report

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