Believe it or not, I was working on this post before I got massively distracted by the efficiency questions surrounding ethanol and gasoline. To some, I may seem to be a bit of a Jeckyll and Hyde with respect to ethanol. One day, I am bashing it. The next day, I am endorsing it. So what’s the deal?
I fully acknowledge the need to move away from fossil fuels, but most grain ethanol in this country is primarily recycled fossil fuels. I object to taking fossil fuels, converting them to ethanol, subsidizing the ethanol not on the basis of energy “created”, but instead on a per gallon basis, while mining our topsoil in the process.
However, ethanol does not have to be created in an unsustainable manner. I applaud ethanol producers who are trying to produce ethanol in a more sustainable manner. Previously, I wrote on E3 Biofuels efforts to create a closed-loop process, which they should be starting up soon. Last week I saw another headline that described an integrated bioenergy plant with a different twist from that of E3 Biofuels:
Some excerpts from the article:
An electric cooperative in southwest Kansas is reaching beyond coal to generate power. Sunflower Electric Power Corp. announced plans Wednesday to create a first-of-its-kind “integrated bioenergy center” on a 10,000-acre site four miles south of Holcomb, plugging an expected meat-processing operation, dairy, ethanol plant and biodiesel plant into the co-op’s plans for its own expanding coal-fired energy center.
Together, the independent operations would work together to generate electricity, produce ethanol, feed livestock and otherwise help one another succeed — through reductions in water use, lessening of emissions and a host of other spin-offs previously unrealized in a single project anywhere.
“We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before,” said Scott Miller, a spokesman for the electric co-op.
The project would convert manure to methane, which could fuel an ethanol plant. Flue gas from the coal-fired electric plant could feed into an algae reactor, whose water could be drained for boiling in the power plant — steam drives the turbines that produce electricity — while the algae could be used to feed dairy cattle or help produce biodiesel fuel. (1)
This is the kind of alternative energy effort we should all advocate. Some will not be enthusiastic about the use of coal as an energy source, but in my opinion this is inevitable. Ethanol that is highly dependent upon natural gas will rise and fall with the price of fossil fuels. Ethanol that is dependent on coal will be more insulated from the volatility of other fossil fuels. Besides, since methane will be derived from the manure, the coal-demand will be much lower than for a conventional ethanol plant. And conventional ethanol plants are turning to coal as an energy source anyway. (2)
While the integrated bioenergy center is not a fully sustainable solution, it is a big step in that direction. And steps toward sustainability are steps I support.