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Book Review: Alcohol Can Be a Gas! Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century by David Blume

Albert Bates, The Permaculture Activist via blog

Title: Alcohol Can Be a Gas! Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century
Author: David Blume
The International Institute For Ecological Agriculture, 2007, 550 pages, illustrated

…Conventional wisdom has it that “agrifuels” are in competition with food production and climate remediation. I dashed off an email to David Blume asking for an example of “permafuel.”

He replied, “Well to take a page from the book. In semiarid areas where the temperature goes no lower than 0 degrees F you can plant an overstory of mesquite to provide both 340 gallons of alcohol per acre from the pods and fuel the plant with coppiced branches from the tree. In the understory you plant perennial Opuntia (nopales) thornless cactus, and between there and the dripline and beyond you plant the starchy root crop, Buffalo Gourd, for a total yield of far over 1000 gallons per acre without irrigation.”

There you have it, a polyculture for food and fuel. But what about climate change? I wrote him back, “Would you say the guild above is a net carbon sink?”

He responded, “It is absolutely a massive carbon sink. Pretty much all arid country crops put the majority of their growth underground and have a robust mycorhyzzal feeding regime. Perhaps 80+% of carbon produced in the top growth is exuded for rhizosphere associates. Mesquite is unique in that a large portion of its root burrows deep to support it with water extracted from far below. There have been recorded instances of mesquite going down 160 feet for water.”

And that, in a nutshell, is Farmer Dave’s permafuel thesis. That he takes several hundred pages to flesh it out, in Alcohol Can Be a Gas! Fueling an Ethanol Revolution for the 21st Century, is an enduring blessing for permaculturists everywhere. This six-volume set, bound into one thick paperback, is both required reading and a standard reference on a par with A Pattern Language and David Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens.

…Just exactly what is the appropriate role for alcohol fuels is an old, but ongoing discussion, and it has been known to get heated at times. The Tortilla Rebellion in Mexico, catastrophic overplanting of maize and soya, gene splicing by multinationals for cellulosic substrate alchemy, forest clearing worldwide –these are serious concerns.

…By showing how ethanol can be ethically produced in combination with food, soil, carbon sequestration and other objectives for healthy system design, Blume provides a rescue remedy for our planet at a time when it could scarcely be needed more.

Alcohol Can Be A Gas! goes beyond helping the mechanically adept convert their internal combustion engines to ethical fuels. It provides clear operating manuals for the farmers who will grow those fuels, the fermenters who will build and operate the stills, and the artisans who will create and trade myriad co-products.
(August 2007 issue)

Losing Forests to Fuel Cars
Ethanol Sugarcane Threatens Brazil’s Wooded Savanna

Sabrina Valle, Washington Post
Jaguars, blue macaws and giant armadillos roam the fickle landscape of Brazil’s Cerrado, a vast plateau where temperatures range from freezing to steaming hot and bushes and grasslands alternate with forests and the richest variety of flora of all the world’s savannas.

That could soon come to an end. In the past four decades, more than half of the Cerrado has been transformed by the encroachment of cattle ranchers and soybean farmers. And now another demand is quickly eating into the landscape: sugarcane, the raw material for Brazilian ethanol.

“Deforestation in the Cerrado is actually happening at a higher rate than it has in the Amazon,” said John Buchanan, senior director of business practices for Conservation International in Arlington. “If the actual deforestation rates continue, all the remaining vegetation in the Cerrado could be lost by the year 2030. That would be a huge loss of biodiversity.”

The roots of this transformation lie in the worldwide demand for ethanol
(31 July 2007)

The great biofuel fraud

F William Engdahl, Asia Times
That bowl of Kellogg’s cornflakes on the breakfast table or the portion of pasta or corn tortillas, cheese or meat on the dinner table is going to rise in price over the coming months as sure as the sun rises in the East. Welcome to the new world food-price shock, conveniently timed to accompany the current world oil-price shock.

Curiously, it’s ominously similar in many respects to the early 1970s when prices for oil and food both exploded by several hundred percent in a matter of months. That mid-1970s price explosion led the late US president Richard Nixon to ask his old pal Arthur Burns, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, to find a way to alter the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation data to take attention away from the rising prices.

The result then was the now-commonplace publication of the absurd “core inflation” CPI numbers – sans oil and food.

The late American satirist Mark Twain once quipped, “Buy land: They’ve stopped making it.” Today we can say almost the same about corn, or all grains worldwide. The world is in the early months of the greatest sustained rise in prices for all major grains, including maize, wheat and rice, that we have seen in three decades. Those three crops constitute almost 90% of all grains cultivated in the world.

What’s driving this extraordinary change? Here things get pretty interesting.

F William Engdahl is author of the book Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation, about to be released by Global Research Publishing, and of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, Pluto Press. He may be reached via his website,

(Copyright 2007 F William Engdahl.)
(1 August 2007)

Ethanol Scam: Ethanol Hurts the Environment And Is One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles

Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone
The great danger of confronting peak oil and global warming isn’t that we will sit on our collective asses and do nothing while civilization collapses, but that we will plunge after “solutions” that will make our problems even worse. Like believing we can replace gasoline with ethanol, the much-hyped biofuel that we make from corn.

Ethanol, of course, is nothing new. American refiners will produce nearly 6 billion gallons of corn ethanol this year, mostly for use as a gasoline additive to make engines burn cleaner. But in June, the Senate all but announced that America’s future is going to be powered by biofuels, mandating the production of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022. According to ethanol boosters, this is the beginning of a much larger revolution that could entirely replace our 21-million-barrel-a-day oil addiction. Midwest farmers will get rich, the air will be cleaner, the planet will be cooler, and, best of all, we can tell those greedy sheiks to fuck off. As the king of ethanol hype, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, put it recently, “Everything about ethanol is good, good, good.”

This is not just hype — it’s dangerous, delusional bullshit.
(24 July 2007)
Jeff Goodell is author of the book “Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future.” David Roberts at Gristmill interviewed Goodell last year.