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November 2009 Archive for Top of Mind

RSS By: Jeanne Bernick, Top Producer

Jeanne, Top Producer Editor, grew up on a beef cattle operation in Southwest Missouri and now writes from the heart of corn country in Eastern Iowa.

Battling Al Gore

Nov 24, 2009
Put ‘em up, Al Gore. You may have invented the Internet, but the ethanol industry is not going to let you talk nasty about the corn-based fuel.
Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dineen recently sent a letter to former vice-president Al Gore, challenging the treatment of ethanol in his new book Our Choice. Many of the characterizations of today’s ethanol industry in the book are out of date or simply wrong, according to Dineen.
For example, Gore writes in Our Choice: “largely because modern agriculture is so petroleum intensive, net greenhouse gas emissions from corn-based ethanol turn out to be almost equal to the emissions from gasoline.”
Dinneen contends that since corn ethanol production is not “petroleum intensive”, greenhouse gas emissions from ethanol are lower than gasoline. He points to U.C. Berkeley analysis and others that find ethanol requires far less petroleum than is required to produce gasoline.
“Net greenhouse gas emissions from corn ethanol are significantly lower than gasoline,” Dineen says. Most recent analyses suggest corn ethanol reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions 40-60% compared to gasoline.
Dineen points out many more of Gore’s inaccuracies in his letter, and he offers many, many more responses to Gore’s treatment of ethanol. For ethanol supporters, it’s an enjoyable tit-for-tat. Possibly a more enjoyable read than Gore’s new book.
But that could be an inconvenient truth.

Energy In Balance

Nov 17, 2009
The days of calling biodiesel “inefficient” are waning.
Newly published research from the University of Idaho and USDA shows that biodiesel returns more than four times the energy it takes to make the fuel from soybeans. So for every unit of fossil energy needed to produce biodiesel from soybeans, the return is 4.5 units of energy.
The National Biodiesel Board is calling on the EPA to own up to these scientific conclusions. Currently, the EPA’s proposed rule to implement the expanded Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2) uses 2005 baseline numbers for petroleum and biodiesel to project carbon impact 22 years in the future.
These old numbers unfairly stack the deck in favor of petroleum. Biodiesel efficiencies have come a long way since 2005.

Don’t forget that biodiesel is also a source of co-products, like glycerin, for which EPA does not credit biodiesel. The USDA/Idaho study finds other key drivers that continue to make biodiesel an efficient fuel choice:
  • New seed varieties and management practices are upping soybean yields.
  • Farmers have minimized cultivation of the soil. These reduced tillage practices have cut how much fuel they need to grow soybeans.
  • Modern soybean varieties have reduced the need for pesticides.
  • Today’s soybean processing and biodiesel plants are more energy efficient.
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