Column: I vote for biofuel

Published 12:10 pm Thursday, June 21, 2007

By Staff
Like everyone else in this country I'm getting really fed up with our seemingly unrecoverable addiction to oil. My ire goes much deeper than just the wallet emptying price of gas nowadays. It's the greenhouse gasses from burning oil that contribute to global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer. It's the pollution to the atmosphere and spills in the oceans and the continual bickering over developing our last wild places for oil. It's knowing some day we're just flat going to run out of it. It's our constant meddling in Middle East affairs which is causing us so much grief and expense, mostly driven by oil. You don't see us throwing everything we have at those African nations where the genocide and atrocities make Sadam Hussein and the Taliban look like nuns. When you cut through the chafe we're much more into oil than humanitarianism. There's just nothing good about oil.
Of course, none of this is unique thinking. We've been trying to find oil substitutes for decades and we've come up with a number of them. The problem is we just can't seem to get unified, decide which alternative we'll commit to and go for it. Most of the alternatives we're dinking with are only partial solutions. I don't ever see cars giving us the all around performance we demand on 100 percent electricity; we still have to hybridize them with gasoline engines. I don't ever see the sun or fickle winds providing all our nation's electrical needs. Nuclear energy, in addition to all its other pitfalls, requires nonrenewable resources just like oil.
It seems to me the only viable alternative to oil that could fulfill all of our energy needs in a short period of time with a minimal amount of change-over problems and expense is biofuel. Granted, biofuel is far from perfect. There are many shortcomings, nearly all associated with the manufacturing and transportation phase, but it's a quick, easy route leading away from the oil fields. The perfect solution may be out there but we're far from finding it. In the meantime I think we're bogging ourselves down with partial solution technology. Electric cars and windmills may work for some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. Biofuels work for everyone except the oil companies.
Biofuel, for all practical purposes, is nearly identical to petroleum based fuels, it's just made from recently living organisms instead of crude oil. In fact, nearly all of our engine designs can run on biofuel with little or no modification. When the German, Nicklaus Otto, invented the first internal combustion engine he intended it to run on ethanol made from grain. Henry Ford originally designed the Model T in 1903 to use ethanol as well. It later had to be modified for gasoline. When Rudolph Diesel designed the diesel motor he intended it to run on peanut oil. All of our combustion engines have spawned from biofuel designs and most could be easily and inexpensively re-converted back to biofuel. In many cases, with the right biofuel they're good to go as is with no modification.
One of the better things about biofuel is that it comes from organic compounds made by plants and animals. The energy in it comes from the sun. When it's burned everything in the ensuing exhaust is something that was in the atmosphere to begin with. That's not to say there is no pollution associated with biofuels. There's this not-so-little issue of still needing fossil fuels to manufacture biofuel. That we'll get into later.
Of course, since biofuel comes from plant and animal matter it's renewable. The only limitation is how many crops we can grow, how much timber we can harvest and how much manure we can shovel. On the surface this seems like the employment panacea of the century but there are many complex social, economic and environmental considerations. Next week we'll see if we can separate the wheat from the chafe and make some sense of all that. Carpe diem.