Another Reason Celluostic Ethanol is a False Hope
Part of being a nuclear advocate is debunking the endless stream of poorly-thought-out energy "solutions" that pop up. For example, the latest ethanol craze.
Here is a great article in the Washington Post debunking ethanol.
But celluostic ethanol has an even bigger problems that aren't mentioned:
Celluostic agricultural waste is ALREADY being used to generate electricity. It's being burned in waste-burning plants to generate electricity. Sawdust (which is often cited as a source) has been burned to power the sawmills and surrounding communities for decades.
If we converted existing sources of ag waste to ethanol production, we'd experience a decrease in energy efficiency. Burning this waste in a typical power plant is actually pretty efficient. Something on the order of 25% or 30% efficient. The creation of ethanol would be much less efficient -- there's no way that a giant ethanol "cooking" plant full of cellulose-consuming bacteria will be anything better than 10% efficient converting the calories to useful energy.
Even if we do grow millions of additional tons of switchgrass or other energy crops, they're unlikely to become ethanol. They'll simply get burned to generate electricity. This will happen because burning them is the cheapest, easiest, and most profitable way to use the resource. The american midwest is full of coal and waste-burning plants who are hungry for green energy sources. These plants already exist, they are already running, and they will quickly, cheaply, and efficiently use up all the available energy crops.
Think of it this way...you're a switchgrass-growing farmer. You can sell your crop to the local coal burning plant (which pays a much higher price, and which generates carbon abatement and pollution abatement credits when it burns your crop in place of coal). Or you could sell your switchgrass crop to the ethanol factory and get paid 1/2 the price. Who do you think you'll sell to?
Burning switchgrass instead of coal -- easy, cheap, already happening.
What's the point? There is very little net energy to be had in current agricultural waste, and any future growth of ag waste or energy crops will be best used for electrical production, not ethanol. Yes there are waste streams that can't be burned (amimal waste, etc) but these are reletively small. Celluostic ethanol will require a lot of new research, new technolgy, investments in new plants, and a lot of other complexity. Will it be worth it? Probably not.
Why do I care? In this and other pro-nuclear blogs, we've observed for years that in western society, especially american society, we've seen a rash of "energy sources" which are hyped to the public, many of which are technically unsound, yet the general public grabs onto them. It's a major obstacle to the logical development of real "green" energy sources like nuclear power.