I have asked this in some past thread but I hope a thread of its own will provoke a better discussion. Why is our government so heavily promoting the use of corn-derived ethanol as a gas replacement?
Ethanol production as it stands requires the diversion of food crop into a fuel crop. It requires energy to produce. Enough energy that it is far from carbon neutral. Yes, research is ongoing to harvest biofuels from cellulose and thus to be able to use non-food product, but even then why?
Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to use biomass to produce electricty by burning it with coal and promoting the era of plug-in electric cars, even if that means a plug-in hybrid transition phase? Burning non-food biomass would be not only carbon neutral but, in some cases carbon negative. Mixed stands of prairie grasses end up capturing more carbon (by leaving root structures behind) then they release upon buring and can grow on land not suitable for food crops. Iowa, as a case in point, has land that farmers have been paid to not farm but to let go to prairie as a means to reverse their high erosion rates, that are due to now go back into production but which are still poorly arable for row crops. (In fact keeping some stands of prairie grass rotating with row crops may actually increase food crop productivity.) Non-food portions of food plants may also be usable as a biomass for electricity production. At least one utility is positioning itself to use biomass in new power plants (no doubt also hoping to benefit with this relatively inexpensive fix if/when carbon tax or cap and trade are implemented.)
So why the fixation with converting biomass into biofuels at a significant efficiency disadvantage and substantial other deleterious effects? Is it lobbying from farm states that see a quick rise in corn and soybean prices as in their best interest? Or from oil companies who see a more lasting role in distributing biofuels as gasoline becomes prohibitive than in cars mainly running off of the electrical grid (assuming that promised production cost obstacles in battery technologies are indeed surmounted in the near future)?