Is ethanol production 'renewable' if it requires fossil fuels?

The March 23 article, "Carbon cloud over a green fuel," is accurate in all but one minor respect. Yes, burning coal in a boiler to provide energy used to turn corn into ethanol would result in more CO2 emissions than just running cars and trucks on gasoline.

Where I disagree is when the article mentions ethanol plants that are built next to coal-burning power plants and that use waste heat to drive their process. The article denigrates such colocations as "Efficient, but still coal."

This is analogous to dismissing hybrid cars because they still use gasoline. Hybrid cars burn less gasoline, and that is moving America in the right direction. More efficient use of all energy sources - fossil or renewable - is crucial if America is ever to transform its economy to rely totally on renewable energy.

If Congress had been serious about curing America's energy insecurity, a mandate to colocate energy-intensive facilities would have been an excellent provision in last year's energy bill.
Eric Hiaasen
Eugene, Ore.

The March 23 article raised an excellent question in asking if corn-based ethanol is actually a renewable fuel. Unfortunately, the short answer has to be "no."

Corn ethanol has never been a renewable fuel. Modern industrial corn farming is not possible without nitrogen fertilizers, and more than 90 percent of today's nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas. From field to ethanol plant, corn ethanol production constantly consumes fossil fuels. The truth is that corn ethanol is not sustainable without those fossil fuels.

If ethanol were actually a renewable and sustainable fuel, farmers and ethanol plants could use the fuel they make to make more ethanol. They can't and don't do that, and the corn ethanol industry is just as addicted to fossil fuels as the rest of the country.

Instead of using natural gas and coal to make ethanol, it would actually be more efficient to use those two fossil fuels as the feedstock for making another alcohol fuel - methanol. The energy released in the chemical reactions that make methanol can be used to generate the electricity needed to start the methanol-making process again.

Using fossil fuels to make methanol would allow us to skip the less efficient steps of using natural-gas-based fertilizer to grow corn, and then using more natural gas or coal to turn that corn into ethanol.
Gary L. Dikkers
Madison, Wis.

Less-than-perfect hotel, lovely view

Regarding the March 16 article, "Do svidaniya, Rossiya!": We stayed at the Rossiya a few years ago. It certainly had its share of problems, but there was one positive aspect: It overlooked the Kremlin, and we had the most spectacular view. We were in awe.

At night, we turned off the lights and just sat in front of the window gazing at the Kremlin palaces and St. Basil's Cathedral. This worked out very well, since the television didn't work anyway.

We won't miss the hotel, but we will always remember the beautiful view.
Steve Hughes
Victorville, Calif.

New Orleans could be 'New Venice'

Regarding the March 22 article, "In new Big Easy plan, little clarity": It seems to me that New Orleans would be better off to embrace the sea and try to become the "Venice of America." The city could rebuild with canals and work with the water, instead of trying to keep it out.
Diana Anderson
Woodland, Wash.

The Monitor welcomes your letters and opinion articles. Because of the volume of mail we receive, we can neither acknowledge nor return unpublished submissions. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Any letter accepted will appear in print and on our website, www.csmonitor.com.

Mail letters to 'Readers Write,' and opinion articles to Opinion Page, One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, or fax to (617) 450-2317, or e-mail to Letters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Letters
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today