Oregon fuels hold their own

My View • State’s new energy sources measure up just fine
by:  SARAH TOOR, One reader who got to try out the new track at Portland International Raceway — where driver Justin Wilson (left) competed in last summer’s Champ Car Grand Prix — wonders why more of an effort isn’t made to reduce the noise that reaches PIR’s North Portland neighbors.

Studies published in the journal Science concluded that today’s biofuels cause more greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum fuels. While the studies rightfully draw attention to unsustainable agricultural practices in parts of the world, it would be a terrible mistake to apply their conclusions to the burgeoning biofuels industry here in Oregon. In fact, the biodiesel and ethanol produced and sold in Oregon is some of the most sustainably produced fuel currently available in this country. Global demand for energy continues to increase, and answers to the questions about how to meet the world’s demand are necessarily complex. Not all biofuels are created equal. It doesn’t take an expert to see that there is a world of difference between filling your car with a gallon of fuel made from recycled cooking oil in Salem and a gallon of fuel made from Indonesian palm oil. Similarly, biodiesel and ethanol produced in the United States on existing agricultural lands are 40 percent to 80 percent better forms of low-carbon energy than standard petroleum-based fuels. Virtually all ethanol consumed in the U.S. is produced in the U.S., which also is good for the American economy. Ethanol from domestically produced corn utilizes land that has been in production for decades, not new ground cleared in the tropics. And the new Pacific Ethanol plant in Boardman was designed to use far less fossil energy and produce lower carbon emissions than conventional ethanol plants. Along with Oregon-grown canola oilseed and Midwestern soy oil, these constitute some of the cleanest and best available sources to meet our region’s short-term transportation needs. Longer-term, technologies in development such as cellulosic ethanol, algae for biodiesel and biobutanol hold the promise of extremely clean and efficient fuels. Certainly, we stand a greater chance of finding sustainable alternatives for the future through innovation in biofuels than we do by mining ever-more intractable reserves of petroleum, such as the Canadian tar sands. We don’t entirely agree with the Science authors’ attributing the bulk of overseas deforestation to biofuels — the trend long predates the use of biofuels. The real culprit for the increasing rate of deforestation is global macroeconomics combined with a lack of environmental regulation on the part of some developing countries’ governments. Biofuels are not the be-all and end-all to our energy issues. They are one part of a carbon-reduction solution that includes other forms of alternative energy, such as wind and solar, together with strategies for reducing U.S. and worldwide energy demand. The best way to reduce carbon emissions from transportation is to reduce fuel consumption by driving less, and driving more efficient cars. Hybrid vehicles, clean diesel vehicles and electric vehicles are all viable technologies to achieve this goal. In the end, the unused unit of energy is the least polluting unit of energy. Dave Garten is chief executive officer of SeQuential Biofuels, a Portland-based retail biofuels company.