19 April 2007

Ethanol May Be Worse For Air Quality Than Gasoline

Here's an interesting article about a new study on the effects of ethanol from an engineering professor at Stanford University.

Switching from gasoline to ethanol — touted as a green alternative at the pump — may create dirtier air, causing slightly more smog-related deaths, a new study says. [...]

Ethanol would raise ozone levels, particularly in certain regions of the country, including the Northeast and Los Angeles.

"It's not green in terms of air pollution," said study author Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University civil and environmental engineering professor. "If you want to use ethanol, fine, but don't do it based on health grounds. It's no better than gasoline, apparently slightly worse."
Ethanol gives you a lower fuel economy than gasoline, many flex-fuel vehicles require a synthetic or special flex-fuel oil to prevent the negative effects of ethanol getting past the piston ring and reducing lubrication or diluting the engine oil, ethanol cannot be send via pipelines because of its tendency to pick up water and impurities in the line (causing higher transportation costs), it is a heavily subsidized fuel, and now it turns out that it may not be as "green" as many have been claiming.

That's not to say that there are no benefits to ethanol. Many refiners are beginning to use ethanol to replace MTBE as the oxygenating additive in gasoline, high ethanol blends usually increase horsepower, ethanol production may be more energy efficient than gasoline production, and the byproducts of ethanol production can provide high grade livestock feed.

One of the big advantages of ethanol, however, was supposed to be its environmentally friendly nature, and that might not be quite so accurate any longer. I'm all for weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels, but let's make sure that the alternatives that we plan on using are thoroughly researched and considered before implementing them as our miracle cure.


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