Richard Cantú has been doing some thinking. The topic is biofuels (and other biomass energy) and how farmers, the urban poor and the rest of the world can actually benefit in the transition from oil to bio-oil. In his paper "Ethanolomics: The Think-About's of the Mexican Ethanol Project" (get it free in PDF form here), Cantú begins with six rules that the Dutch Energy Transition and the Food and Agriculture Organization laid out for sensible biofuel production. They are:
  • Over the whole chain, the use of biomass should produce fewer emissions of greenhouse gases net than on average with fossil fuel.
  • Production of biomass for energy must not endanger the food supply and other local applications (such as for medicines or building materials).
  • Biomass production must not affect protected or vulnerable biodiversity and will, where possible, have to strengthen biodiversity.
  • In the production and processing of biomass, the quality of soil, surface and ground water and air must be retained or even increased.
  • The production of biomass must contribute towards local prosperity.
  • The production of biomass must contribute towards the social well being of the employees and the local population.
Then, he adds a seventh:
  • The overall ethanol production costs should be cheaper and more accessible than that of the fossil fuels, or at least the same level, excluding all the subsidies or tax benefits to the producers or distributors.
Accomplishing a list like that should take, what, a week? Five days? Or perhaps just a wee bit longer. Salon's Andrew Leonard is right to point out that to make Mexico's ethanol economy hit these seven points will require strong government intervention in a highly regulated market, something the U.S. has spent decades pushing it's allies to not accept. But, if Venezuela and Alaska can turn the oil into a benefit to all the people who live there, why shouldn't Mexico do the same with ethanol?

[Source: IDEAS via Salon]

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