Sunday, August 26, 2012

Burning Ethanol Fuels Killing Trees? (Draft Copy)

August 23rd, 2012

As many of us have surely noticed by now, something is wreaking havoc on the trees alongside the roadways of OUR nation.  Trees of all sizes seem to be unnaturally turning brown and dying.  The distressed, dying, and dead trees seemed to have first appeared a few years ago and have been increasing in numbers ever since.  Some of the trees seem to die from the ground up, others from the top down, while some trees seem to die from the trunk outward, and yet others seem to be dying from the end of the branch inward, some trees merely have spotty sections of death on the tree with no rhyme or apparent reason to the pattern of the dead leaf spots. 

As one who has been driving the highways and byways of our nation for several years, and as one that always takes notice of the flora and fauna in his vicinity as an insight to the latitude and climate of his surroundings, I have never seen the level of impending death in trees throughout the nation progress to such as extent as what currently appears.  Furthermore, this current level of impending death in trees was not apparent until the last few years, from what I remember.

Of course I have done no scientific study on this matter, because I aint no government agency with an unlimited budget – nor am I a chemist or chemical engineer, it should be noted.  However, the governments across OUR land don’t seem particularly interested in the distressed trees. The Federal government’s answer to the dead trees seems to be to cut the tress back away from the roadsides – which might serve a two-fold purpose of opening/widening the viewing area for safety when driving but may also serve another purpose of removing the dead trees along the roadside so that we don’t notice all the dying trees and begin to question why the trees are dying. 

I have contacted several state-level and local-level government forestry departments and have been told nearly every possible cause for the distressed trees.  All of the tree folks agree that there are currently many parasites and diseases hurting trees.  In addition, many areas have been experiencing drought and other government arborists blame some of the tree deaths on run-off salt used to melt wintertime roadway snow and ice.  And, I’m sure all these negative forces have been having significant effects on the trees of our nation. 

However, drought and disease/parasites would seem to be more localized issues and it would not seem logical that these issues would rise to be such a nation-wide level over the last several years – as these causes have never risen to such a level so in the past.  For instance, there is no current drought condition in the New England portion of the nation and yet the trees there still seem to be dying in bulk – especially the pines/evergreens; and there was no significant snow levels last winter that would support the theory that snow-melting salt would be killing the trees this summer – as such was never so prominently apparent even before the days of attempting to use reduced salt levels on roads. 

In my mind, this leaves pollution as the only matter that could logically rise to a national epidemic to affect trees throughout the land – because vehicles are burning fuel and creating pollution everywhere.  But then, pollution has always been present and pollution levels have been markedly reduced over the last several decades. 

So, what is different in these last few years that would make today’s pollution potentially more lethal to the trees and vegetation?  Well, for starters, we have only been burning ethanol additives in our fuels on a nationwide level for about four or five years. As such, it seems that the nation-wide burning of some amount of ethanol in our gasoline appears as the only viable common denominator that would be present to kill the trees across the nation – or so the matter appears to me, anyhow.  Because, nearly everywhere in the nation is now burning gasoline with ethanol in the motor fuels.

During my under-graduate years of studying mechanical engineering, I had the opportunity to study the use of alternative fuels.  I was somewhat amazed to learn that with the burning of any alcohol-based fuel, some amount of formaldehyde will be produced as a by-product of the chemical reaction.  Formaldehyde, if you remember, is the smelly liquid substance that they kept the dead frogs in to preserve them until we could dissect the frogs in high school biology class.  Formaldehyde, like chlorine, is really good for nothing except killing things.

Again, I’ve been witnessing the trees dying in this manner for about three or four years, approximately.  And, we’ve been burning at least 15% ethanol in our gasoline for about five years (approximately) to date.  So it seems likely that the burning of the ethanol is creating formaldehyde by-products (or whatever) and these by-products are being taken up by the trees through the air or with run-off water that also contains these by-products. 

Did the government (EPA, etc.) even look at the effects of the by-products of burning ethanol prior to essentially mandating its use – one has to wonder?  I ask because no one else seems to be asking or noticing any potential effect on the trees throughout our nation.  And, if the burning of ethanol is having such an effect on trees, what is it doing to us humans by breathing the fuel’s by-products in the air?  Again, I don’t claim to have the answers here, I am merely attempting to pose the questions. 

Maybe we would be best served to stop burning ethanol and alcohol based fuels until we are told more  of the effects the by-products of those fuels.  I think some scientific studies should  be done to determine the legitimacy of my hypothesis - if such is not already known, before we kill all of our trees.  Because after we kill the trees, what will begin to die next?

Adam Trotter, P.E.

PS.  I will probably leave this blog entry as a draft copy until I get a chance to see if anyone really looked into the effects of burning ethanol fuels and the problems of the fuel's byproducts. 

Ethanol fuel



Ethanol Fuel History

My Prior Blogs on the Subject:
Why are the pine trees dying?