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Alternative fuels: Food for thought

STUTTGART, Germany - At its beginnings, ethanol generated a very high level of enthusiasm. Just imagine: you only use something as common as corn or wheat to make alcohol, which can replace gasoline o...


STUTTGART, Germany –At its beginnings, ethanol generated a very high level of enthusiasm. Just imagine: you only use something as common as corn or wheat to make alcohol, which can replace gasoline or diesel fuel while creating very few emissions.

And all that courtesy of Mother Nature! But…analysts soon brought up some questions about the viability of the process. In order to grow all that corn, you need to use chemical fertilizers that can end up in waterways, in addition to farm tractors and agriculture machinery that generate pollution. In a nutshell, you save the environment on one side and harm it on the other. Even worse: with all the farmers rushing to these ethanol-producing crops, they became less available for human sustenance while some crop prices were skyrocketing, impacting people in developing countries who rely on these crops for their basic food needs.

When confronted on this issue during a seminar on replacement fuels, Daimler officials said that they were well aware of the situation and claimed to be working on solving the problem.

“Replacement fuels must not harm the environment and be renewable,” said a Daimler expert, adding that the company is concentrating its efforts on synthetic biomass fuels coming from such things as wood residues or animal waste and on a replacement fuel that comes from plants that are not suitable for human or animal feeding. One of the most promising is the jetropha, a plant growing in semiarid regions. Often referred to as “green gold,” it produces an oil with properties very similar to diesel fuel. Daimler says that its production could even represent a great advantage for some farmers; thanks to added revenue they would get from growing a plant which has virtually no value presently. •


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