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Biofuels - Sept 24

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Biofuels: Green energy or grim reaper?

Jeffrey A McNeely, BBC
Biofuels could end up damaging the natural world rather than saving it from global warming, argues Jeff McNeely in the Green Room. Better policies, better science and genetic modification, he says, can all contribute to a greener biofuels revolution. ..

The European Union recently has issued a directive calling for biofuels to meet 5.75% of transportation fuel needs by 2010. Germany and France have announced they intend to meet the target well before the deadline; California intends going still further.

This is a classic "good news-bad news" story.

Of course we all want greater energy security, and helping achieve the goals (however weak) of the Kyoto Protocol is surely a good thing.

However, biofuels - made by producing ethanol, an alcohol fuel made from maize, sugar cane, or other plant matter - may be a penny wise but pound foolish way of doing so.
Consider the following:
· The grain required to fill the petrol tank of a Range Rover with ethanol is sufficient to feed one person per year. Assuming the petrol tank is refilled every two weeks, the amount of grain required would feed a hungry African village for a year ..
(22 Sept 2006)


Researchers Caution on Potential of Energy Crops as Invasive Species

Mike Millikin, Green Car Congress
A University of Arkansas researcher and his colleagues are calling for caution in developing dedicated energy crops, citing the possibility of some of those biofuel crops becoming invasive species.

Robert N. Wiedenmann, professor of entomology, and his colleagues S. Raghu, Roger C. Anderson, Curt C. Daehler, Adam S. Davis, Dan Simberloff and Richard N. Mack put forth their argument for ecological studies of biofuel crops in the policy forum in the 22 September issue of Science.

Most of the traits that are touted as great for biofuel crops-no known pests or diseases, rapid growth, high water-use efficiency-are red flags for invasion biologists. We want to start a dialog and approach the question of biofuels systematically.

-Robert N. Wiedenmann

The authors of the article in Science call for an examination of potential invasiveness as crops are examined for their biofuel potential and before putting such crops into large-scale production.

...Researchers investigating the potential for biofuels tend to be engineering or agricultural specialists who are looking at maximizing energetic conversion or crop size. Wiedenmann and his colleagues want to see ecologists at the table with engineering and agricultural researchers addressing the potential for invasiveness.
(21 Sep 2006)


Farming the World's Energy

Christian Wüst, Spiegel (Germany)
Agriculture offers the first serious alternatives to fossil fuels: Diesel, natural gas, and petroleum could give way in the future to "biomass" energy. As development continues apace, so too do concerns about the farmed fuels' effectiveness.

...Engines can handle vegetable oil just as well as gasoline, as the pioneers of machine construction already knew. "It's turned out that diesel engines can run on peanut oil without any difficulty," the ingenious inventor Rudolf Diesel explained in 1912. But Diesel's contemporaries paid little attention to such questions. It was hard for them to imagine that cars would ever be associated with anything like issues of disappearing resources.

Roughly 100 years later, though, there are half as many cars in the world as there were human beings alive back then. Some 800 million motor vehicles make up a vast army of gas-guzzlers. Every day motor vehicles consume about 10 million tons of oil -- more than half of what is produced worldwide -- on a daily basis. Finding a way to power these vehicles on a renewable fuel will be one of the Herculean tasks of the new millennium. Peanut oil simply won't be enough.

... in the best possible scenario, German soil could yield about 2 million tons of biodiesel every year. Compare that to the 130 million tons of petroleum the German population consumes every year, and it becomes clear that rapeseed will never be able to liberate an industrial society from its dependence on petroleum.

Scarcity isn't the only problem with biodiesel. Fertilizing the fields and processing the harvest is highly energy-intensive, thus eliminating much of the potential for savings.

Moreover, biodiesel's suitability for use with modern engines is limited at best.
(21 Sep 2006)
Long even-handed treatment of alternative fuels.

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