Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Baker Institute study on biofuels examines ethanol spills

A recent study by Rice University’s Baker Institute concludes that the US needs to reconsider its policy to promote grain-based ethanol.

The study, “Fundamentals of a Sustainable US Biofuels Policy,” questions the economic, environmental, and logistical basis for federal subsidies that support US ethanol producers. Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the Rice Energy Program, was one of the authors of a paper about the study's results.

A research grant in environmental engineering from Chevron Technology Ventures supported the study on biofuels.

The study notes that increased use of ethanol increases the likelihood of leakage of ethanol into water supplies and the environment, often when ethanol is blended with gasoline.

Underground storage tanks are a principal source of this contamination. Metal containers are prone to corrosion and leaking. Already, there have been more than 479,000 confirmed releases of which 377,000 have been cleaned up.

Releases of ethanol likely will lead to some altered remediation approaches, the Baker Institute study said. But rather than the dangers of direct exposure to ethanol, the greater risk to human health comes from the potential for BTEX mixed with ethanol, which is more difficult to degrade. BTEX stands for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes.

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