Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Unintended Consequences of Alternative Fuel and Elephant Dung
Ethanol is one of the many alternative fuels being foisted upon the fuel starved world population. Ethanol is derived from the fermentation of crops like corn, grain and other food stuffs, saw grass, lawn clippings, wood chips, and of course, elephant dung.
Gasoline burning internal combustion engines cause some 10,000 deaths per year in the US alone. And then there are the thousands of people who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases because of air pollution emitted from automobiles. Then there are the cancer deaths. Horrible. The fuel of the future that show so much promise in combating global warming and eliminating CO2 from our atmosphere, the ethanol-based E85 (15% gasoline, 85% ethanol) would more than likely contribute an equal or greater number of deaths and could result in even worse catastrophes for our beloved Gaia.
A Stanford University, California smart-guy, Mark Jacobson, has modelled car emissions for the types of cars predicted to be on the roads in 2020. A car fleet running on E85 would result in 185 more pollution related deaths per year, mostly in a newly smoggy Los Angeles. Now that doesn't jibe with the theory that ethanol is a cleaner burning fuel than gasoline which emits various pollutants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and acetaldehyde, an organic molecule, a photo-reactor forming ozone. Ozone is one of the primary ingredients of the smog soup that plagued our cities and played havoc with our health from the 1960's through the 1980's until clean air regulations cleaned up the mess.
Ethanol, rather than being a panacea, may be the death of us. Burning ethanol provides nearly the same pollutants as gasoline, but much of the ethanol is not burned in the combustion process, escaping into the atmosphere. The escaped ethanol then breakdown in the sunlight forming acetaldehyde causing ozone level the skyrocket. It's true that ethanol fueled vehicles will emit benzene and butadiene carcinogens at far lower levels as compared to conventional gasoline fueled vehicles, "they will spew out 20 times as much acetaldehyde as those using conventional fuel," says the Stanford smart-guy.
Some whacky Dutch scientists at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands with too much time on their hands, have found a fungus in elephant dung (pachyderm poop) that aids in the breakdown of tough fibers and wood into biofuel, reports Scientific American.
With the dwindling population of elephants, the prospect of using elephant dung derived ethanol is unlikely. However, the Dutch smart-guys believe the fungus can help them make a particular yeast to ferment wood sugars efficiently. Working in concert with Dutch alcohol maker Royal Nedalco and Bird Engineering, the Delft University dung boys predict they can have a viable fuel source from wheat bran, straw, or wood by 2009.
Remember when oil was the alternative fuel for dirty coal and expensive whale oil? And automobiles were the cleaner alternative transport for horses which left many, many piles of horseshit in our cities causing diseases and death, not to mention the stench of dead horse bodies left in the streets for days before they were dragged away to be rendered into glue or served in fancy French restaurants. No one saw the consequences of that big idea. The law of unintended consequences is again evident with the modern alternative fuels. Has anyone thought about what will happen to all that water dripping from the tailpipes of all those hydrogen fuelled cars in the freezing weather of Chicago and New York, or the effect the extra water vapor on the dry deserts of Arizona and New Mexico?
The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.