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Exposing The Greenwash Falsehood Of  “Renewable Ethanol”

By Dr Gideon Polya

19 April, 2014

Huge wealth disparities have meant that  our democracies have become anti-science Lobbyocracies and Corporatocracies in which  Big Money determines “truth” and “reality”. No better example is the use of the term “renewable ethanol” by fossil fuel corporations and Mainstream media despite the reality from a science-based perspective that  “renewable ethanol” is a blatant lie because no matter the source of the biological feedstock for bio-ethanol production, the CO2 generated and energy used from producing  bio-ethanol are always greater than the CO2 generated and the energy obtained from burning the bio-ethanol.

As we were getting petrol (“gas” in US parlance) at a BP service station (“gas station”) in Sydney recently, I noted a sign on the petrol pump stating that this petrol contained “10% renewable ethanol”.  Not just BP but other fossil fuel corporations such as Shell and Caltex also claim to sell “renewable ethanol”. It is not just fossil fuel corporations but Mainstream media also use the term. Thus Fox News, American ABC News and the UK BBC  while utterly ignoring  the US Alliance “Iraqi Genocide” (4.6 million deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation since 1990) [1], uncritically  report on “renewable ethanol”.

The Australian ABC is Australia 's equivalent of  the UK BBC and claims to be “ Australia 's most trusted, independent source of news . Our network of more than 500 journalists at home and abroad provide unrivalled coverage”. However a  search of the “entire ABC site “ for the term “renewable ethanol” yields the following 2 items that both make false and misleading claims about “renewable ethanol” as a renewable energy source.

(i). According to the ABC: “The use of E10 blended fuels is reported in the emissions table (see page 115), however the renewable ethanol content  of the fuel is not reported separately. The ABC does not directly source energy from other renewable energy sources”   [2].

(ii). According to the ABC “Where possible, the ABC uses E10 fuel which contains renewable ethanol. The total E10 fuel used annually is reported in the GHG emissions tables, however the renewable energy component of this fuel is not reported” [3].

“Renewable ethanol” is a lie and indeed a dangerous lie because (1) it is associated with huge net CO2 pollution and the CO2 pollution from  carbon burning-based bio-ethanol production exceeds the CO2 from combustion of bio-ethanol; (2) the energy required for bio-ethanol production exceeds the energy from bio-ethanol combustion; (3) biofuel production generates a huge Carbon Debt from destruction of the balanced Carbon Cycle in swathes of wild nature; (4)  the food-for-fuel obscenity implicit in legislatively  mandated bio-ethanol elevates food prices,  deprivation and avoidable mortality from deprivation (Biofuel Genocide) in a world in which 18 million people already die avoidably each year from imposed deprivation, and (5) bio-ethanol and biofuel in general (e.g. bio-diesel) threaten ecosystems, biodiversity and hence the Biosphere of which Humanity is a part (Terracide). These key issues are amplified below.

(1). Huge net CO2 pollution and CO2 pollution from  carbon burning-based bio-ethanol production exceeds the CO2 from combustion of bio-ethanol.  

Ethanol would be a renewable energy source if the net photosynthetic CO2 consumption to generate the sugar cane, corn or other biomass feedstock  for ethanol production (A) was equal to the CO2 produced from combustion of ethanol (B) plus (C) the CO2 generated in the feedstock production, transport, and fermentation, plus (D)  the CO2 generated  in ethanol  distillation,  purification and transport. However B plus C plus D is greater than A for sugar cane- and corn-based ethanol production and indeed for any biologically-derived ethanol production [4, 5]. Bio-ethanol is not a renewable energy source.

(2). Energy required for bio- ethanol production exceeds energy from bio-ethanol combustion.

A critical consideration is that  it requires more energy to produce ethanol than the energy  derived from the combustion of that ethanol. Thus Professor David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at 43-Nobel-Laureate Cornell University, New York :  "There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel.  These strategies are not sustainable… The United State desperately needs a liquid fuel replacement for oil in the near future but producing ethanol or biodiesel from plant biomass is going down the wrong road, because you use more energy to produce these fuels than you get out from the combustion of these products… The government spends more than $3 billion a year to subsidize ethanol production when it does not provide a net energy balance or gain, is not a renewable energy source or an economical fuel. Further, its production and use contribute to air, water and soil pollution and global warming…Ethanol production in the United States does not benefit the nation's energy security, its agriculture, economy or the environment. Ethanol production requires large fossil energy input, and therefore, it is contributing to oil and natural gas imports and U.S. deficits” [5].

(3) Biofuel including bio-ethanol production generates a huge Carbon Debt from destruction of the balanced Carbon Cycle in swathes of wild nature.

The destruction of wild nature and its replacement with monocultures for biofuel production carries a large Carbon Debt [6]. Thus Dr Timothy Searchinger and colleagues): “Most prior studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline will reduce greenhouse gases because biofuels sequester carbon through the growth of the feedstock. These analyses have failed to count the carbon emissions that occur as farmers worldwide respond to higher prices and convert forest and grassland to new cropland to replace the grain (or cropland) diverted to biofuels. By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%. This result raises concerns about large biofuel mandates and highlights the value of using waste products” [7].

Dr Joseph Fargione and colleagues ( “Increasing energy use, climate change, and carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions from fossil fuels make switching to low-carbon fuels a high priority. Biofuels are a potential low-carbon energy source, but whether biofuels offer carbon savings depends on how they are produced. Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil , Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a "biofuel carbon debt" by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO 2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels. In contrast, biofuels made from waste biomass or from biomass grown on degraded and abandoned agricultural lands planted with perennials incur little or no carbon debt and can offer immediate and sustained GHG advantages” [8].

(4). Bio-ethanol contributes to food price rises and consequent avoidable deaths from deprivation (Biofuel Genocide).

Food-for-fuel biofuel - the cause of a worsening Biofuel Genocide - is now legislatively mandated in the US , UK ,  and the EU. Biofuel is now variously legislatively mandated  in climate criminal Australia , one of the worst per capital greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters in the world and which  has a climate change inaction policy of unlimited Domestic plus Exported GHG pollution. In short, legislatively mandated  biofuel is yet another way (in addition to fraudulent, corporatist-inspired Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) proposals), for climate criminal governments to try to fool their scientifically illiterate subjects into believing that their government is “tackling climate change” [9].

About 6 years ago the   United States was using about 9% of its wheat, 25% of its corn and about 15% of its grain in general to produce biofuel. Currently the US uses 40% of its corn crop to make biofuel [10]. The US expanded renewable fuels standard (RFS) requires 8.5 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2008 and progressively increases this to a 36 billion gallon requirement by 2022. The UK  has committed to large increases in the use of biofuels over coming decades, has recently announced subsidies for biofuel and supports the European Commission (EU) target requiring 10 per cent of petrol station fuel to be plant-derived biofuel within 12 years. However the huge and intrinsically genocidal current US diversion of a substantial part of its grain crop to biofuel production has had a huge impact already on soaring global food prices – the world is already facing a global food crisis with alarm being expressed by UN, FAO and other scientific experts. Simple Google searches for “global food crisis”, ”world food price crisis” and related phrases reveals massive current concerns over what must be described as Biofuel Genocide [11].

The former UK Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington CMG, FRS (Professor of Applied Population Biology at 15-Nobel-Laureate Imperial College, London) has described the devastating potential of food shortages as an "elephant in the room" problem commensurate with that from climate change and warns that biofuel diversion (e.g. for canola oil- or palm oil-derived biodiesel and grain- or sugar-derived ethanol) is threatening world food production and the lives of “billions”. The former  Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has said that it is "outrageous" that developed countries are turning food crops into biofuels while billions of people in the developing countries are living on the edge and trying to cope with escalating food prices [12].  Dr Lester Brown founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute, Washington , D.C. , USA :  “Whereas previous dramatic rises in world grain prices were weather-induced, this one is policy-induced and can be dealt with by policy adjustments. The crop fuels program that currently satisfies scarcely 3 percent of U.S. gasoline needs is simply not worth the human suffering and political chaos it is causing. If the entire U.S. grain harvest were converted into ethanol, it would satisfy scarcely 18 percent of our automotive fuel needs.”

At the end of 2008 oil and food prices  peaked, there were food riots around the world and only the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and an attendant decline of food prices averted a Bengal-style catastrophe. However food prices have been rising again since the GFC and the threat of man-made, price-driven famine is again looming in a World in which  2 billion people go hungry and 1 billion are malnourished. The world is already seeing the commencement of a re-run - on a possibly 100-fold greater scale - of the man-made World War 2 Bengali Holocaust in which 6-7 million Indians perished in Bengal and in the adjoining provinces of Assam, Bihar and Orissa under the merciless British “scorched earth policy” when the price of rice doubled and finally doubled again. The price of the staple, rice, rise 4-fold through a variety of factors, not least a huge decrease in grain imports. Australian was complicit in this Bengali Holocaust by largely failing to supply starving India out of its huge grain stores  [13-16].

(5). Bio-ethanol and biofuel in general (e.g. bio-diesel) threaten ecosystems, biodiversity and hence the Biosphere of which Humanity is a part (Terracide).

The worsening Biofuel Genocide associated with bio-ethanol and bio-diesel production is part of a worsening destruction of the Biosphere (including Humanity) that amounts to Climate Genocide [17] and Terracide [9]. Dr James Lovelock FRS (Gaia hypothesis) and Professor Kevin Anderson ( Deputy Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester, UK) have estimated that only about 0.5 billion people will survive this century due to unaddressed, man-made global warming. Noting that the world population is expected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050 (UN Population Division) , these estimates translate to a Climate Genocide involving deaths of 10 billion people this century, this including roughly twice the present population of particular mainly non-European groups, specifically 6 billion under-5 year old infants, 3 billion Muslims in a terminal Muslim Holocaust, 2 billion Indians, 1.3 billion non-Arab Africans, 0.5 billion Bengalis, 0.3 billion Pakistanis and 0.3 billion Bangladeshis [17, 18].

The Biosphere is priceless but nevertheless Balmford et al [20] quote an attempt at determining  the total economic value of wild nature has been estimated at about $35 trillion annually (2002) or about half of the world's annual GDP [19]. Thus Balmford et al (2002) state that “ Loss and degradation of remaining natural habitats has continued largely unabated. However, evidence has been accumulating that such systems generate marked economic benefits, which the available data suggest exceed those obtained from continued habitat conversion. We estimate that the overall benefit:cost ratio of an effective global program for the conservation of remaining wild nature is at least 100:1 ” [19].   Already the species extinction rate is about 100-1,000 times greater than normal [20].

Concluding comments.

The Western democracies have become Murdochracies, Lobbyocracies and Corporatocracies in which  Big Money determines public perception of  “reality” and can turn the truth on its head. As exampled above,  Corporate interests with the active and passive assistance of Mainstream political, media and academic presstitutes can easily brainwash the generally scientifically illiterate public into the Greenwash of “renewable ethanol” - a blatant lie because no matter the source of the biological feedstock for ethanol production, the CO2 generated and energy used from producing  ethanol are always greater than the CO2 generated and the energy obtained from burning the ethanol.

The rational risk management protocol crucial for societal safety successively involves (a) accurate reportage, (b) scientific  analysis and (c) informed systemic change to minimize risk. However Big Money corporations and Mainstream presstitutes can pervert this protocol into one of (a) lying , (b) anti-science spin and (c) reportage-inhibiting “blame and shame”. This sort of perversion has created societies dominated by Orwellian  untruths in which, as in George Orwell's “1984”, “war is peace”, “freedom is slavery”, “ignorance is strength” and “2 plus 2 does not equal 4”.

The world is threatened by a worsening Climate Emergency with an increasing probability that we will run out of time to save a decent future for the next generations. There is a huge issue of Climate Justice and Intergenerational Equity [21, 22]  and all decent, concerned  people who care for future generations  - and all decent, concerned young people in particular - must (a) inform everyone they can about neoliberal, corporatist lying and deception and (b) urge and apply Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against all those complicit in the worsening Climate Genocide.

I have done my bit as a scientist toward this end by informing people about climate change [22]. I have also  created  well-documented websites  to expose malreportage and the worsening climate crisis, namely “Boycott Murdoch Media” [23] (the Murdoch  Media Empire being notoriously climate change denialist), “Censorship by the BBC”: [24],   “ABC fact-checking unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC (Australia's BBC)” [25], “Mainstream media censorship” [26], “Mainstream media lying” [27], “Climate Genocide”[17], “Biofuel Genocide” [11],   “Carbon Debt , Carbon Credit” [6], Climate Justice & Intergenerational Equity” [21],   and    “Are we doomed? Too late to save earth?" [18]. Silence kills and silence is complicity.


[1]. “Iraqi Holocaust Iraqi Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/iraqiholocaustiraqigenocide/ .

[2]. ABC “Environmental Responsibility”, Annual Report, 2013, Part 4, Corporate Responsibility: http://about.abc.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/ABC-Annual-Report-2013-Part-4.pdf  .

[3]. ABC , “Environment”, 2013 Sustainability Reporting – Additional Details”: http://about.abc.net.au/how-the-abc-is-run/what-guides-us/corporate-responsibility/2013-sustainability-reporting-additional-details/  .

[4].  “Ethanol fuel”, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel .

[5].  Susan S. Lang, “Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and biodiesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy”, Cornell Chronicle, 14 April 2014: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/2005/07/ethanol-biodiesel-corn-and-other-crops-not-worth-energy .

[6]. “Carbon Debt , Carbon Credit”: https://sites.google.com/site/climatedebtclimatecredit/home .

[7]. Timothy Searchinger et al,  “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”, Science 29 February 2008, Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1238 – 1240: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1151861 .

[8]. Joseph Fargione et al, “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt” , Science 29 February 2008, Vol. 319. no. 5867, pp. 1235 – 1238: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1152747 .


[9]. Gideon Polya, "Terracidal climate change inaction", Countercurrents, 6 April 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya060414.htm  .

[10]. “Biofuels: Euro MPs  votes to cut use for transport”, BBC News, 11Septemebr 2013:   http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-24030074  .

[11].  “Biofuel Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/biofuelgenocide/home  .

[12]. “Indian Minister attacks biofuels”, BBC News, 26 March 2008: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7315308.stm .

[13]. “Bengal Famine”, BBC, 10 January 2009: http://www.open2.net/thingsweforgot/bengalfamine_programme.html .   

[14]. Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”, now available for free perusal on the web: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com.au/   .

[15].  Gideon Polya, “ Bengal Famine. How Australia & UK killed 6-7 million Indians in WW2”, MWC News, 27 September 2011: http://mwcnews.net/focus/editorial/13742-bengal-famine.html .  

[16]. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, now available for free perusal on the web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/2012/01/body-count-global-avoidable-mortality_05.html  .

[17]. “Climate Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ .

[18].  “Are we doomed? Too late to save earth?", 300.org: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/are-we-doomed

[19]. Balmford et al. (2002), Economic Reasons for Conserving Wild Nature, Science 9 August 2002: 950; see: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/297/5583/950 .

[20]. Phillip Levin and Donald Levin, “The real biodiversity crisis”, American Scientist, January-February 2002: http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/the-real-biodiversity-crisis .

[21]. “Climate Justice & Intergenerational Equity”:   https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/climate-justice .

[22]. “2011 climate change course”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course .

[23]. “Boycott Murdoch Media”: https://sites.google.com/site/boycottmurdochmedia/ .

[24]. “Censorship by the BBC”: https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbythebbc/  .

[25]. “ABC fact-checking unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC ( Australia 's BBC)”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/abc-fact-checking-unit .

[26]. “Mainstream media censorship”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/home

[27]. “Mainstream media lying”: https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammedialying/

Dr Gideon Polya has been teaching science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007, including an avoidable mortality-related history of every country since Neolithic times and now available  for free perusal on the web : http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/science/ockham/stories/s1445960.htm ) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History”(now also available  for free perusal on the web: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/ ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/social-economic-history/listen-the-bengal-famine ). When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya's huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/ .



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