The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Friday, June 09, 2006

Hard science Friday

In his newsletter dated last week, physicist Robert Park wrote the following:

President Bush gave a plug to ethanol from cellulosic biomass. He can't be wrong all the time can he? Some rich investors are backing it, and some very smart scientists. MIT chemist John Deutch commented on it in the Wall Street Journal a month ago, and today's Science has an editorial about cellulosic biomass by Stanford biologist Chris Somerville. They think it's worth major investment in research.

I hadn't heard about this, but I've long been skeptical about the possible benefits of ethanol. It doesn't save a whole lot of energy in terms of production, or provide a huge benefit when it's burned. And I believe I heard that oil companies are rushing to build ethanol production facilities that will run on coal. All factors that mean only marginal gains in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

What we obviously need is a revolutionary fuel that will make the US energy independent and also create a new technology for export, and a lot of scientists appear bullish on cellulosic biomass.

The link above is to a 2001 conference summary on the issue-- its genesis, problems, and potential. It'll make you feel smart going into the weekend.