Scrolling Headlines:

Worcester, Student Union renovations among subjects of first SGA Senate session -

September 26, 2017

Three thefts in Fine Arts Center over past week -

September 26, 2017

Talk on women’s resistance to Brazilian military dictatorship held at the Old Chapel -

September 26, 2017

Engstrom and MacLean lead UMass cross country at Battle in Beantown -

September 26, 2017

The anti-Semitism of the Suarez talk is not the way to discuss the Israeli-/Palestinian conflict -

September 26, 2017

No, fascists are not the same as those who oppose them -

September 26, 2017

Political factions oppose each other like passionate sports fans -

September 26, 2017

STEM Ambassador’s Program to expand impact on and off campus -

September 26, 2017

Buzz starting to build for UMass hockey -

September 26, 2017

UMass Tennis starts season strong at Brown Invitational -

September 26, 2017

Foo Fighters’ ‘Concrete and Gold’ misses the mark -

September 26, 2017

Emmy’s 2017 Red Carpet fashion recap: who, what, WEAR -

September 26, 2017

We all scream for vegan ice cream -

September 26, 2017

UMass women’s soccer takes complete control in 3-1 win vs. Davidson -

September 25, 2017

Shaughnessy Naughton speaks on STEM professionals in politics -

September 25, 2017

ESPN author and journalist talks sports and mental health at UMass -

September 25, 2017

UMass men’s soccer remains unbeaten at home -

September 25, 2017

Minutewomen split Pennsylvania trip -

September 25, 2017

Kozlowski’s minutes limited for second straight game in loss versus Fordham -

September 25, 2017

Late penalty-kick goal not enough vs. Rams -

September 25, 2017

Alternative alternative fuels

MCT

MCT

As our attention shifts to the Iowa caucus and Alabama farmland’s employment void after new immigration laws, it is only fitting that the subject of corn should come up.  However I am not here to lament on our apathy towards bloating cows’ rumens or to scream “down with capitalism!” at the prospect of land clearing, but rather to cast a spotlight on another evil imposter: ethanol.

My only beef with this yellow vegetable is that is so heavily funded.

Once the government heavily subsidizes something, it seems impossible to turn to any other alternatives. This is due to the fact that alternative energy research tends to follow the federal money. .

Have we forgotten that we can tap chemically stored electricity, as in the case with battery-powered cars, biomass material such as algae fuel, or emission-less hydrogen, to name a few?  Now it is not so much a matter of choosing between the conventional fossil fuels – petroleum, coal, propane and natural gas – or nothing, so why do Solyndra and Rick Perry’s moratorium on all environmental regulations make the front page instead of the wind turbines in Denmark?

Well, maybe it’s because ethanol’s not a resource that requires drilling; in fact ethanol fuel is just the byproduct of fermented corn. But the paradox of ethanol is that while it was originally intended to decrease the need for carbon sequestration, University of California-Berkeley professor Tad Patzek claims it actually takes up to six times more energy to produce than the finished product contains.

In ethanol cycle farming, to yield one hectare of corn takes 5,800,000 kilowatt-hours of solar energy, 191 kilowatt-hours of electricity, 51 gallons of fossil fuels, 1,300 pounds of fertilizer and 5,300 gallons of water – a process which leads to field water runoff of nitrogen and pesticides. For ethanol production, or the resources needed to obtain a gallon of ethanol, 37 gallons of water are needed, 1.1 kilowatt-hours of fossil fuel energy (the fermentation, waste water, carbon dioxide, gluten, and heat are by-products), and 12 gallons of wastewater, all for a 14-18 percent decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

Ethanol today is used as a gasoline additive, meaning it has to be mixed with fossil fuels in order for it to be effective, so the higher octane rating, or the argument that gas is burned more evenly and there is less engine knocking for the car, is weakened.

We have a finite amount of oil and if the next generation is to be sustained, this would be inadequate.  If you look at how biofuels came about, the initial idea was to have the cleanest burning fuel.  Rudolf Diesel had envisioned vegetable oil as the most probable fuel source for his engine (he even demonstrated his pressure-ignited diesel engine with peanut oil) and Henry Ford had expected his Model T to run on ethanol.  Only when petroleum came into the picture – the cheapest and most energy-dense liquid for supply, price and efficiency – did such discussion end.

Now, after the Clean Air Act has regulated the emission standards for pollutants like sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, ozone, and nitrogen oxides, and the Arab oil embargo has driven oil prices up from $14 a barrel in 1979 to $35 a barrel in 1981, biofuels and ethanol are all the rage again.

Yet while it has its pitfalls, ethanol has still given us the insight to challenge what it means to be ‘energy secure’ and experiment with alternative resources while we still have the time to. Presently, the only question that remains is: do we have the resources and the cooperation to sustain our demanding society indefinitely? We could turn to Wayne Keith of Springville, Ala. for inspiration. He runs his Dodge truck on a gasification process of debris, which includes wood, paper, manure, or anything combustible, who reported, “When gasoline hit $1.75, I bailed out.” If we all strive to become independent from gas, the answer to that question is yes.

Alexa Jones is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at anjones@student.umass.edu.

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