Alternative Fuels Can Boost Pollution
A recent US study released on November 13, 2007, warns that some alternative fuels can cause more harmful greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuel polluters like diesel or petrol. For example liquid coal, often touted as an alternative to gasoline and thus a way of reducing our dependence on foreign oil, can actual produce up to 80% more global warming pollution than typical unleaded gasoline. The process of turning coal into liquid (liquefaction by hydrogenation) actually produces nearly double the level of carbon dioxide emissions that conventional gasoline does, and it is considered by many environmentalists as a huge step backward for combating global warming.
Other popular alternative fuels, such as corn ethanol, can also be more polluting. Whether corn ethanol is more or less polluting than gasoline will depend on how it the cord is grown, the study reports, and how the ethanol is produced.
The analysis for the report was based on the idea, and goal, of replacing 1/5 of all gasoline consumed in the United States with alternative fuels by the year 2030. Under that consideration, the report determined that if most alternative fuels consist of liquid coal, the change from fossil fuels to alternative fuels could actually pump pollution into the atmosphere at a rate equivalent to 34 million more cars traveling the road.
However, the report contents, a selection of cleaner “advanced biofuels” could actually cut harmful pollution. The report suggests that the cleanest alternative is cellulosic ethanol: a fuel made from biomass, such as grass and wood chips. Cellulosic ethanol could actually cut emissions by more than 85 percent.
The major contention in the report is that just because a fuel is alternative doesn’t mean it is the best choice: although we need to wean ourselves off of oil, it would be prudent to do so with the appropriate, clean, alternative fuels.
The analysis for this report was conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit environmental group. The report can be found here: