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Largest ethanol plant in Calif. opens

October 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
California has joined the mad dash to produce ethanol. The state has launched the biggest ethanol plant in the state at Port Stockton.The country has more than 100 biorefineries, with most producers in the Midwest, near the country's major corn-growing region.

With the opening of the largest biofuel plant in California, Pacific Ethanol hopes to produce 60 million gallons annually. It is touted as environmentally friendly because fewer greenhouse gasses are emitted. Therefore, the fuel 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, Pacific Ethanol CEO & President.

About 57 pounds of corn is processed to make nearly 3 gallons of ethanol. The unused parts of the corn help California's dairies.

Since there are so few ethanol pumping stations in California, and just a small market of flex-fuel cars, the biggest buyers are the oil industry. Oil companies mix the ethanol 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 that sections of rain forests around the world are being destroyed for biofuel development, such as cornfields. Those trees act as a natural sponge to absorb carbon emissions.

"That'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, Pacific Ethanol Chairman.

About 100 miles away from Pacific Ethanol, a symposium on the escalating crisis of world food prices was taking place on Friday. People were 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," said Professor David Zilberman, Ph.D., UC Berkeley 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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