Bio Energy in the Lowcountry

Yesterday, more than a few friends and readers pointed me to the Post & Courier article about how International Bio Energy is considering building a new ethanol plant here in the Lowcounty. This would be a real sign that our region is serious about a greener future, provide people with a fuel alternative, and bring a few more jobs to the area. Sounds good, right?

I’m not convinced. The theory that we can use ethanol as a viable fuel alternative has problems. I blogged about this last year, and was shocked by some of these facts:

  • If we used all the corn produced in the United States to produce ethanol, it would provide only 7 percent of our total vehicle fuel use.
  • If every car in America was fully powered by ethanol, it would take 97 percent of U.S. soil to grow enough corn to support it.
  • About 30 percent more fossil energy is required to produce a gallon of ethanol than you actually get out in ethanol.
  • Corn causes more soil erosion in the United States than any other crop.
  • Corn uses more nitrogen fertilizer than any other single crop, and it’s the prime cause of the dead zone down in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Corn also uses more insecticides and herbicides than any other crop.
  • Each acre of corn drains 500,000 gallons of water over three months.

The thought of wasting all these resources creating an ethanol infrastructure that will never solve our problems is crazy. Where is SC going to get all the corn? As mentioned in this article, we are a corndeficit state – meaning we consume more corn than we grow. So where is International Bio Energy going to get the corn for their ethanol plant?

The corn would be bought from domestic suppliers, including South Carolina farmers, Starnes said, and also from overseas.

Talk about NOT going local. My gut tells me this effort is an energy net-loss. Bringing in corn from other states and countries can’t be cheap, and neither can shipping off the ethanol after refinement. This does not seem to be a viable model, and doesn’t seem to have local interests in mind.

However, I did read something positive in that article. At the very bottom, Southeast BioDiesel is mentioned because they are building a plant on the old navy base that will convert used cooking oil from local restaurants into a non-toxic fuel alternative. I’m not sure biodiesel is any better than ethanol as a viable, long-term solution, but at least their model solves a local waste problem by reusing cooking oil.

I really want to see people, government, and businesses actually working to reduce our dependence on driving, not oil. With no viable alternative fuel in sight, and peak oil looming, it is clear to this blogger that we need to drive less. We need to change our habits, not what we put into our gas tanks – and articles like this touting miracle fuel alternatives (OK, I’m being dramatic) only distract us from working on real change.

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