The alternative energy field “is almost like the Internet in terms of the pace of how fast all this is changing,” says Chris Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute, an environmental organization. He believes that new technologies could help resolve some concerns over collateral damage. One of the hottest, for example, is called cellulosic ethanol, which uses different kinds of waste — including municipal garbage — to create fuel.
In the U.S., questions about corn-based ethanol are swirling in academic and agricultural circles, in part because of the work of a Cornell University professor. David Pimentel, who teaches environmental policy, has long held doubts about the fuel’s value. He argues that expanding corn production for biofuels would deplete water resources and pollute soils with added fertilizer and chemicals. It would also require huge volumes of traditional energy for farming equipment and ethanol-conversion facilities — a toll that could nullify gains from the less-polluting fuel produced.