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From the Newsletter (Vol 2, Iss 1): A Sociological Look at Biofuels

February 8, 2010

[Source: Sarah Lupis for ILE’s The Salt Lick, Vol 2 Iss 1]

This month, Michael S. Carolan, associate professor of Sociology and member of the Institute for Livestock and the Environment, published his new book, “A Sociological Look at Biofuels: Understanding the Past/Thoughts for the Future.” This book concentrates on biofuels and specifically on ethanol within the U.S., though in the concluding chapter the author expands the discussion to include other agro-based fuels.

In the face of global climate change, growing calls for energy independence, and often spiking gasoline prices, biofuels have been touted as a sustainable solution to our energy problems. Yet biofuels are not without their critics.  Their credentials as a “green” fuel have been, to put it mildly, mixed in recent years. Others are concerned about how biofuels are impacting both global food and feed supplies.  Despite aggressive research and development into alternatives, Carolan asserts that, given current production realities, “biofuel” will effectively mean “ethanol” for some time. For example, some 168 ethanol distilleries in the U.S. produced more than 9.2 million gallons of ethanol in 2008 (up from 6.5 million in 2007); globally, 16 billion gallons of ethanol were produced worldwide in 2008. In contrast, in 2007 biodiesel production in the U.S. was approximately 492 million gallons and globally amounted to only 1 billion gallons.

Carolan chronicles ethanol’s trajectory—from early popularity when it looked to surpass gasoline as a power source for automobiles, through a losing battle against the deep pockets of Big Oil, to its recent resurgence. This journey through time not only helps us understand current conditions and trends in ethanol, but provides context and lessons-learned that can be applied to new innovations, including algae-based biofuels.

Carolan is no advocate, nor is he a hostile critic. Ethanol’s cheerleaders and detractors alike will be dissatisfied with his take on the subject. However, he does help readers understand the headlines of tomorrow by providing a 360-degree look at how society, science, the economy, and politics shape our options for alternative fuels.

“A Sociological Look at Biofuels” is currently available through many book retailers and the Colorado State University bookstore ont the Fort Collins campus. Michael will be speaking on this subject on Wednesday, February 17th from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. in Clark C-251, as part of ILE’s Spring 2010 Seminar Series.

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