Aug 5, 2009 | 2
ALBUQUERQUE—Cellulosic biofuels extracted from native switchgrass could lend a helping hand to imperiled birds that depend on vanishing prairies in the Midwest.
With palm oil plantations overrunning Indonesian rainforests and corn-based ethanol in the U.S. spurring new deforestation abroad, it may seem like biofuels and biodiversity don't mix. That's why ecologist Bruce Robertson at Michigan State University's W. K. Kellogg Biological Station and his colleagues wanted to know how birds and bugs would fare if the U.S. switches from corn-based ethanol production to cellulosic biofuels based on grasses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing these biofuels to help achieve further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Switchgrass has been singled out for biofuel production because of its low water requirements and high nutrient efficiency, along with the fact that it is native to the U.S.
Jul 16, 2009 | 9
Corn-based ethanol production continues to rise; U.S. farmers planted 87 million acres of corn this year—two million more than the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had initially estimated in March. This news has driven down corn market prices, leaving farmers skeptical about the theory that ethanol production has caused a corn shortage and in turn inflated food prices in the U.S.
The U.S. is the world's largest producer of both corn and ethanol, surpassing Brazil in the latter category in 2006. Since 2002, the year ethanol production began rapidly increasing in the U.S., the rate at which food prices increase has doubled (an increase of $46 per week for a family of four from 2002 to 2009, compared with an increase of $23 per week for the same family over the prior seven-year period). These simultaneous increases in food costs and ethanol production have left many people concerned over a potential shortage of the grain. The current market prices, however, undermines the correlation between ethanol production and a shortage of the grain.
Mar 9, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C.—When gas prices were sky high, lots of people talked about ethanol as a fuel of the future. In particular, many investors placed their hopes in cellulosic ethanol. Such ethanol is made from the non-edible parts of corn, such as the stalk and leaves, or from non-corn sources such as certain kinds of grasses.* Unlike the ethanol available today, it does not require the edible parts—a requirement that has raised concerns of pitting fuel versus food.
But at least as important, no one has yet figured out a way to make cellulosic ethanol for anything approaching the price of gas—or how to make much of it at all. “Right now it’s just big diseconomies of scale,” says Aditya Rajagopalan, 17, a student at Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.
Feb 17, 2009 | 3
In recent decades, China has pushed the use of nitrogen fertilizer to help wrest as much food out of farms as possible, in part to stave off the famines of the past. Of course, such overuse of nitrogen results in air pollution and ocean dead zones—as well as, paradoxically, less fertile soil.
Now new research shows that by using just one third of typical amounts—presently as much as 600 kilograms per hectare—farmers could get the same or better results growing corn, rice and wheat, the main staple crops. The key is applying the fertilizer to seedlings rather than adding it to soil while planting, write Ju Xiao-Tang of China Agricultural University in Beijing and his colleagues in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
Sep 12, 2008 | 5
On the slim chance that you haven’t gotten your daily dose of corn from eating seemingly unrelated staples like bread, soda and yogurt, you've probably caught the latest TV ad campaign extolling the supposed virtues of a corn-derived artificial sweetener.
The new commercials, featuring everyday folks incredulous at being offered juice and desserts made with high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), are an effort by the Corn Refiners Association to hit back against the bad rap the sweetener is getting. Books by Michael Pollan and documentaries such as "King Corn" argue that there's too much corn product in the American food supply hidden under names such as dextrose and crystalline fructose — and the trade group thinks we've gotten the wrong message.
Aug 25, 2008 | 3
By picking Joe Biden as a running mate, Barack Obama may have reassured the electorate about his lack of experience and foreign policy bona fides, according to some pundits. But the coal-state senator may have also taken a step toward shoring up his enviro cred.
The Delaware senator is as serious as a heart attack about energy policy—a point The Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Ball made this weekend.
Biden has been harping on the need for a new energy initiatives for years. When he sat on a Real Time with Bill Maher panel in the spring of 2006, he called 9/11 a "squandered opportunity" for enacting new socialized energy programs. The American public at that point, he claims, was uniquely united in acting for the greater public good.
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