An Iowa refinery began turning corn to ethanol last year by burning 300 tons of coal a day -- the first US plant of its kind to use coal instead of cleaner natural gas.
"If the biofuels industry is going to depend on coal, and these conversion plants release their CO2 to the air, it could undo the global warming benefits of using ethanol," says David Hawkins, climate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.
"'It just made great economic sense to use coal,' says Brad Davis, general manager of the Gold-Eagle Cooperative that manages the Corn LP plant, which is farmer and investor owned. 'Clean coal' technology, he adds, helps the Goldfield refinery easily meet pollution limits -- and coal power saves millions in fuel costs.
Yet even the nearly clear vapor from the refinery contains as much as double the carbon emissions of a refinery using natural gas, climate experts say. So if coal-fired ethanol catches on, is it still the 'clean, renewable fuel' the state's favorite son, Sen. Tom Harkin likes to call it?"
Thanks to Jean Brocklebank