California opens largest ethanol plant

October 10, 2008 8:49:23 PM PDT
The state's largest ethanol plant opened Friday with help from one of the nation's greenest governors. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in Stockton praising the benefits the new biofuels plant will bring, but some think making fuel from corn is just bad science.

With the opening of the largest biofuel plant in California, Pacific Ethanol hopes to produce 60 million gallons annually. It's touted as environmentally friendly because fewer greenhouse gasses are emitted and therefore helps in the fight against global warming.

"Ethanol, right now is the way that we can make meaningful progress in bringing low carbon fuel to the state of California," said Neil Koehler, the Pacific Ethanol CEO and President.

About 57 pounds of corn is processed to make nearly three gallons of ethanol. The unused parts of the corn help California's dairies.

"We take old kernel corn, and what we have is 200-proof alcohol finished product, and our high protein cattle feed," said a scientist.

Because there are so few ethanol pumping stations in California and just a small market of flex-fuel cars, the biggest buyers, so far, are the oil industry, which mixes it in with your gasoline.

The benefits of biofuels have come under attack recently, as researchers take a closer look at the environmental cost of their production and the effects on food supplies.

The prestigious journal, Science, found sections of rain forests around the world are being destroyed for biofuels, such as cornfields. Those trees act as a natural sponge to absorb carbon emissions.

"It's all guesswork. The fact is, if you judge ethanol on the same basis on which you judge oil, that's what you're going to have to do at some point, we're 42 percent cleaner based on a Department of Energy Study," said Bill Jones, the Pacific Ethanol Chairman.

About 100 miles away from Pacific Ethanol, a symposium on the escalating crisis of world food prices. People here are discussing why we're putting corn in cars instead of stomachs, especially when trucking in corn to the ethanol plants contributes to global warming.

"We can do a lot of other things to solve greenhouse gasses besides biofuels. If the issue is greenhouse gasses versus food, I think food is a much more urgent problem," Professor David Zilberman, Ph.D., from U.C. Berkeley's Agricultural Economics.

Only 20 percent of the Stockton plant's corn will come from California's Central Valley Farmers. The rest is from out of state.


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