Just a quick one here along the lines of my biofools series. Anyone interested in biofuels should take a look at the LA Times Editorial from Aug 20 titles “Drunk on Ethanol” which discusses many of the negatives of growing corn for ethanol and of other aspects of the crop to ethanol pipeline. Also check out the letters to the editor following up on the piece (one of them by my sister, Lisa Coffman, Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network). My personal biggest concern is the environmental damage that could come from increased use of plants to produce ethanol. Such damage includes the conversion of rainforests into sugar cane plantations, the use of more and more pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers to go onto less useful land, and the excessive use of an already limited resource – water. Yes, if you do the calculations in certain ways, ethanol seems like a great idea. And it is certainly true that if we are going to make ethanol from crops we could do it more efficiently. But the way it is being done now – with corn sucking up water like their is not tomorrow we are heading down a bad path.
What would make more sense is to first make better use of all the wasted biomass from various agricultural systems and from solid waste. Lots of material is still being burned on farms for example (see pictures below of a fire near Davis — these are going all the time, even on “spare the air” days). Sure – one can make lots of money from corn to fuel right now. But that does not make it the right thing to do when there are plenty of sources of biomass being wasted all around us. Lets hope that more of the biofuels projects work on converting leftovers not new crops.