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New book takes a sociological look at biofuels

February 15, 2010

Michael S. Carolan, associate professor of sociology and member of the Institute for Livestock and the Environment, published his new book this month titled, "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.

Biofuels aren't without critics

In the face of global climate change, growing calls for energy independence, and often spiking instabilities in the price of gasoline, biofuels have been touted as a sustainable solution to our energy problems. Yet biofuels are not without its critics.

Biofuels credentials as a “green” fuel have been, to put it mildly, mixed in recent years. Others are concerned about how biofuels are impacting both the global food and feed supply.

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, biodiesel production in the U.S. was approximately 492 million gallons in 2007 and globally amounted to only 1 billion gallons.

Ethanol's trajectory

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 alternatives fuels.

Seminar Feb. 17

A Sociological Look at Biofuels is currently available through many book retailers and the Colorado State University library at the Fort Collins campus. Carolan will be speaking on this subject 3-4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17 in Clark C-251, as part of the Institute for Livestock and the Environment’s Spring 2010 Seminar Series.

Contact: Sarah Lupis
Phone: (970) 491-2326