People are excited about ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. You can just grow the basic sources needed as grain, for example. Can this solve all of our problems? Careful now: Do you know how much grain it takes to make the ethanol needed to fill up the 25 gallon tank of an SUV?
Enough grain to feed 1 person for a whole year!
I learned this on today’s Science Friday. Ira Flatow’s guest on this topic was Lester Brown, the founder of the Earth Policy Institute. It was an excellent discussion, covering several elements of the discussion, from economics to chemistry. Basically, we are on the verge of a real competition between growing crops for food and growing them for fuel. Is this wise? It could spell a major transformation of the world’s economy, and not a positive one from the USA’s point of view, given how much of the world’s grain supply is sourced in the USA.
Lester Brown is telling us to be very careful about the “gold rush” to ethanol that is happening right now. Is it globally thought out? Should we be looking at other sources, such as fast growing maple trees, switch grass, etc? Why are we not transforming our infrastructure to make more use of the energy that is available in the form of wind generated electricity? After all, with the efficient electricty storage devices that are available for vehicles right now, should we not be focusing more on doing a lot of our short automobile journeys on stored electricity?
Wind power can bring the electricity costs way down, Lester Brown says, to a point where ethanol will find it hard to compete. One of his key points is that we should be exploring this alternative a lot more than we are.
This is an excellent discussion, and Ira interviews Brown and raises discussion points very well. I highly recommend it. See the links to listen to it at the Science Friday page, here.
A somewhat biased point of view of my own follows, on part of this topic. (I apologize to Prius owners who actually bought theirs as part of a concerted program of efforts to do the right thing:)