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Patience and research [#51]
Biofuels such as cellulose ethanol are believed to have significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction potential whereas GHG emission reduction from corn ethanol is not believed to be really important (Farrell A. E. et al., 2006. Ethanol can contribute to energy and environmental goals. Vol 311, 506-508). This is partly due to the fact that growing cereals requires much more inputs (fertilizer, mechaniocal works...) than growing cellulosic biomass (like switchgrass for instance).

Therefore, could not we reasonably use grain ethanol (without going into massive production for the sake of big money) on the short term to start addressing the climate change issue, push for researches into cellulosic ethanol and then use this biofuel when it become economically viable to use?

As Albert Einstein said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.“
posted on 2007-02-05 16:24 UTC by Ms. Caroline Valero, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
RE: Patience and research [#55]
Each country has its own particular climate change agenda, which needs to be considered with other non climate change factors such as local economies, poverty, political agenda’s and social upliftment to name a few.

Here in South Africa, the first large scale Ethanol plant being built by Ethanol Africa will use corn as a feedstock. Do we take a short term view, minimise the investment in this plant, and invest in research in the field of  viable cellulose ethanol?

No is the short answer.

While current indications are that the cellulose ethanol GHG reduction potential is significant when compared with corn ethanol, South Africa will realise the social and economic benefits of building corn based Ethanol plants immediately. While the GHG emissions might not be as low as those purported by cellulose Ethanol, these corn based Ethanol plants achieve GHG reductions in a secondary process.

The arrival of the Ethanol plant in small towns in rural South Africa brings with it an associated social programme, job creation and economic stimulation, all of which serve to  
uplift previously disadvantaged communities who live in these towns.

These previously disadvantaged people live in communities which densely populated informal settlements. They make use of paraffin for cooking, heating and lighting. The GHG emissions and pollution from the paraffin is visible each dawn as a think cloud above these settlements. Paraffin related GHG emissions can be reduced using Ethanol gel, a by-product of the corn-based ethanol plant. Ethanol gel can be used to substitute paraffin. This leads to a reduction in GHG emissions, together with a reduced risk of paraffin fires, which are a major cause of deaths in informal settlements in South Africa.

The question is driven by the GHG reduction potential. The above scenario, which will unfold in South Africa, will lead to a GHG reduction as a result of the corn based ethanol plant.

This model can be applied to all developing countries, and supports the long term use of grain-ethanol, until cellulose ethanol becomes a commercial reality.

There is also the problem of the time and costs associated with the commercial production of cellulose Ethanol. When will it be ready? What will the research costs amount to? Who will fund the research? Will it be commercially viable to produce?

By reducing medium and long term investment while waiting for cellulose ethanol to become viable, we effectively defer large scale ethanol production. The associated opportunity cost of this deferral results in the sustained burning of traditional GHG emitting fossil fuels, which would have otherwise been replaced with grain based Ethanol.
posted on 2007-02-12 00:48 UTC by Mr Trevor Goott, Ethanol Africa

  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme