Monday, September 3, 2012

Thinking about a regional liquid fuels carbon study

One way we might better understand the opportunities to counterbalance the carbon in liquid fuels is to assess the immediate opportunities in a given region. Being based in Michigan, a midwest regional scope makes sense for practical reasons. Such a scope is of particular research interest for several other reasons as well:
  • Michigan, and the industrial midwest more generally, is home to the U.S. auto industry as well as a major global center of automotive research and manufacturing. The auto industry can potentially benefit from the identification of cost-effective options for counterbalancing the CO2 emissions from the use of their products. 
  • The midwest is the heart of the U.S. biofuel industry, where most corn ethanol production is located, and is a major agricultural region with extensive rural land now used for many purposes (including suburbanization) but which could also have a significant potential for reforestation or other forms of terrestrial carbon uptake and storage. 
  • The midwest has been struggling economically, as its traditional industries have both increased productivity (reducing the need for labor) and been adversely affected by outsourcing many aspects of production. New opportunities for value creating tied to the land itself could provide robust economic opportunities for the future. 
  • Much of the region has dispersed settlement patterns and so is not particularly suitable for either extensive mass transit or vehicle electrification based on available and near-term technological capabilities. Therefore, its transportation systems will remain almost exclusively dependent on liquid fuels for the foreseeable future. 
The region is already experiencing climatic risks of the sort expected to worsen as global warming progresses. Most of the region's political leaders have opposed strong policies for GHG mitigation (opposition that is by and large bipartisan, though it may be expressed differently by members of different parties). However, this policy challenge may be related to the fact that many proposed solutions are seen as having an adverse economic impact on the region's interests, given its historical heavy industry and agricultural base and dependence on coal for power generation. Identifying new opportunities for carbon mitigation that work better with the region's resources and economic base may be more attractive politically than what has been previously proposed. 

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