Biofuels - Sept 17
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Crop Rotation in the Grain Belt
Alexei Barrionuevo, NY Times
GARDEN CITY, Kan. - Once the driving force behind transforming the United States into the “breadbasket of the world,” wheat is being steadily replaced by corn as the crop of choice for American farmers.
Genetic modifications to corn seeds, the growing demand for corn-based ethanol as a fuel blend and more favorable farm subsidies are leading farmers to plant corn in places where wheat long dominated. In Kansas, known for a century as the Wheat State, corn production quietly pulled ahead of wheat in 2000, with Kansas producing 23 percent more corn than wheat last year.
This year’s drought-ravaged crop is expected to be the second-smallest harvest for American farmers since 1978. It follows a year in which American farmers planted the fewest acres of wheat since 1972. And while corn acreage nationwide passed wheat about a decade ago, its footprint and that of soybeans are spreading across a greater swath of the Midwest, farther north and west into the Dakotas and central Minnesota - traditional wheat country, where growing corn and soybeans was once almost unthinkable.
“It is getting harder and harder for American farmers to say they feed the world,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, an environmental research group based in Washington. “Instead, they feed S.U.V.’s.”
(16 Sep 2006)
Could sugar cane save the planet?
Robin McKie and Ned Temko, The Observer
Cars that run on sugar cane, fuel made from palm trees - it sounds like an oil-free future that could solve global warming. But, as a major report backs the biofuels revolution, the critics are gathering
...The critical nature of the situation was underlined last week with the publication of reports by the Tyndall Centre in Britain, and by Nasa, which indicated that the impact of global warming is being felt far more quickly than even the most pessimistic researcher expected a decade ago. The world is melting - rapidly. A major commitment to renewable energy, and to biofuels in particular, would therefore be widely welcomed by climate campaigners. However, it also risks a backlash from some scientists and conservationists. Yes, the use of plant material as a substitute for fossil fuels could help the environment and halt global warming, but it also has the potential to cause serious ecological damage.
This point was stressed last week by the director of Kew Gardens, Sir Peter Crane. 'Biofuels certainly have great potential, but they also carry great risks. They are not a panacea.' For example, growing plants for fermentation using nitrogen fertilisers does not necessarily cut down on carbon emissions. 'Those fertilisers may well have been made in factories that burn fossil fuels, either oil or coal, so you would still be pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,' Crane said.
In addition, planting crops - such as sugar cane or sugar beet - for use as sources of biofuels either means that fields are no longer used for food production or that wild habitats have to be cultivated over. 'This is certainly not a straightforward issue,' Crane said.
...Nevertheless, biofuel's capacity to help Britain meet its climate change obligations is considerable. One study suggests that Europe has the potential to provide 40 per cent of the fuel it needs for transport from crop fermentation.This would help to make dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.
(17 Sep 2006)
Addressing Proposition 87 Criticisms
Dr. Ana Unruh Cohen, The Oil Drum
...Thanks for the opportunity to respond to [Robert Rapier's] post about California's Proposition 87. As way of introduction and full disclosure for your readers, I am Ana Unruh Cohen, the Director of Environmental Policy at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC. ...
But why should a DC-based policy analyst or anyone outside of California care about Prop 87? As the most populous state and the largest gasoline market in the nation, success in reducing oil consumption there could have national repercussions. The new technologies that get kick-started and the lessons learned from deploying them through Prop 87 will have benefits far outside the borders of California. This is also the first time voters are going to have the opportunity to vote for reducing oil consumption.
Robert outlines a number of concerns in his post that in my mind fall into two distinct areas policy - what the initiative would do and what the impacts would be in the future - and politics. For clarity, I will address the two types of concerns separately as best I can, although in some cases they are very closely intertwined...
Support for Ethanol
One of Robert's primary concerns is that Prop 87 would funnel money to corn ethanol. Ethanol, of all kinds, would be one option that the California Energy Alternatives Program Authority could consider as a way of meeting the goal of saving 10 billion gallons of petroleum transportation fuels between 2007 and 2017, including 4 billion annually starting in 2017 (pg. 3). The initiative language does not designate any technologies to be used but leaves that to the Authority to determine. The Authority - a reinvigorated existing California entity - will consist of 9 members, 3 state officials and 6 citizen experts appointed by various senior elected officials. No member of the Authority will be eligible to apply for any of the initiative programs (pg. 5-6), and they will be bound by all of California's ethics laws. I expect the Authority to continue in the long tradition of excellence in public service seen in other Californian boards of this kind.
Furthermore, the initiative language instructs the Authority to assess fuels based on their full fuel-cycle and greenhouse gas emissions (pg. 22), which will lead to a rigorous evaluation of petroleum reduction and climate impact on which the Authority can base its decisions. The initiative programs must also compliment ongoing California environmental programs, like the greenhouse gas tailpipe standard and the governor's climate program (pg. 3, 18, 21, 223). Ethanol might get some support, but I expect many other technologies and programs that will help reduce oil consumption will also receive robust funding. Despite Robert's fear, I believe the funds raised will be deployed in an efficient way.
(5 Sep 2006)
Intelligent response to criticism of California's Proposition 87 by Robert Rapier. Rapier has been The Oil Drum's pointman in criticism of corn ethanol as a replacement for oil. -BA