Garbage to fuel our flying cars

Don’t say I didn’t tell you so, but I ain’t the only one who thinks Congress is taking the cynically easy answer with this corn-for-fuel bullshit. Check out this story from NPR’s All Things Considered. Frankly, I always thought that the answer to the fuel problem and the garbage/landfill problem could be one and the same — and if you were watching closely to the end of Back to the Future you’d have known if for, like, 23 years! Right at the end of the movie, Doc returns in the flying DeLorean and fuels up by dumping household garbage into the “Mr. Fusion” at the back of the time machine. Hmmm, let’s see, NPR article, can you help me out?…

But Alex Farrell at Berkeley sees a way out of this. He says the focus of the biofuels industry needs a rapid change of direction, away from using cropland — which is where most U.S. biofuels come from today — and toward other sources of starting material.

“We could replace all of the ethanol that we consume in California just using waste that goes to the landfill today, and turning that into ethanol,” Farrell says.

Environmentally friendly biofuels could also be made from agricultural waste or grasses grown on land that’s not suitable for crops. The biofuels industry is heading in that direction, but the technology to make use of fuels other than corn and soy is still in its infancy.

Earlier, I was talking about Congress winning easy votes from both the Green types (and sort-of Green types, like me) and from Middle America with this ethanol ploy; instead of doing the hard thing and funding more research into better sources of alternative fuels to wean us off gasoline, Congress grabbed onto the first thing that sounded kind of eco-friendly and then put a bright green sticker on it. But, I didn’t know then that ethanol can, in fact, come from sources other than corn — like from trash, as this Berkeley guy said. I also only pointed out the Mississippi-bound sludge and rising farm feed costs (and no change in trucking pollution) angles from the corn-fuel scam. But NPR’s story also notes that negative global impacts of clear-cutting land to grow corn to take advantage of Congressional incentives, and the attendant costs of that.

Still waiting on my Mr. Fusion. Keep waiting, and keep waiting for that flying DeLorean, too. According to Back to the Future, we’re due for flying cars in 2015, just seven years away, when Congress will likely still be giving us and the environment the ol’ spitting corn-cob treatment.

Ed. note: This post was originally published on my old blog at 10:03 p.m. on Feb. 8. It has since been moved over to The Icepick blogger site. I recently imported my old posts, and removed some duplicates. This version was one of the ones I kept from the old site, hence the comment with an inconsistent date.


One Comment on “Garbage to fuel our flying cars”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The green vote, not to mention the subtler but more cynical “we’re gonna stop givin’ our money to ay-rabs” subtext, is just election year wide net casting.

    I suspect the real reason so much noise is being made about corn has more to do with this:

    An old article, but I’m guessing not much has changed in the last 6 years, and besides, I couldn’t resist the source.

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