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Renewables & efficiency - June 8

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Antibiotic problem haunts biofuels

Stan Cox, Grand Forks Herald (North Dakota)
The Food and Drug Administration recently found that samples of a feed byproduct from dozens of corn-ethanol plants were contaminated with antibiotics. With that news, producing vehicle fuel from grain is looking not only like a wasteful and inefficient process but also like a danger to human health.
SALINA, Kan. — The Food and Drug Administration recently found that samples of a feed byproduct from dozens of corn-ethanol plants were contaminated with antibiotics. With that news, producing vehicle fuel from grain is looking not only like a wasteful and inefficient process but also like a danger to human health.

Growing corn is a leading cause of soil erosion as well as water depletion and pollution. Corn ethanol plants further stress our water supplies by consuming 4 gallons of water for every gallon of fuel produced.

Now to the list of ethanol’s environmental insults we can add pharmaceutical pollution.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting help from biological processes to meet industrial needs. But when colossal volumes of product and enormous profits are at stake, as they are in the alternative-fuel industry, biological methods can backfire.

To survive economically, ethanol plants depend on sales of distillers grains, solid material left over from corn fermentation. Distillers grains are a nutritious, high-protein livestock feed. But they can be laced with multiple antibiotics, the FDA and University of Minnesota scientists have found.

Addition of antibiotics is one of several methods ethanol manufacturers use to control bacterial contamination. Bacteria interfere with the work of yeast cultures that convert sugars to ethanol. Antibiotics can increase ethanol output by 1 percent to 5 percent, according to Ethanol Producer magazine.

That sounds small, but that extra efficiency could boost profits by many millions of dollars as national production is scaled up from its current 9 billion gallons a year.

The discovery of antibiotics in distillers grains has raised concern that ethanol plants could breed and disperse drug-resistant bacteria and that those bugs could share their genes with bacterial species that cause human diseases. Sampling by university and industry researchers has turned up antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the processing streams of ethanol plants.
(7 June 2009)

Cool Proposal
(artificial photosynthesis)
Marcin Gerwin, Permaculture Research Institute of Australia
It’s not about technology. It’s about transitioning to a sustainable society. More than a hundred years ago when gasoline-powered and diesel engines were developed, gentlemen like Karl Benz, Rudolf Diesel and Gottlieb Daimler most probably had no idea what the consequences of their inventions might be. They didn’t expect the suburban sprawl, the oil pollution in the Amazon, conflicts in the Middle East or millions of acres land of paved with highways. Now imagine it was possible to sit down with them at that time and draft a policy for introducing their inventions in a sustainable way. Imagine you could say: “Karl, dude, your engine is great, but when you burn fossil fuels you emit a greenhouse gas which will eventually cause a climate crisis. Cars can be practical on a small scale, but generally let’s stick to walking and bicycles.”

The Invention of artificial photosynthesis is a game changer. CO2 emissions can be quickly reduced by re-using them for the production of gasoline, zero-emission power stations can be easily built and even air quality in the cities can be improved - thanks to the use of clean fuels. Nevertheless, let’s do our best not to repeat the mistakes of the past. This time let’s foresee the problems before they appear and let’s prepare a set of solutions for introducing artificial photosynthesis in a sustainable way.

Artificial photosynthesis is the core of the Cool Proposal which is developed for the climate conference in Copenhagen in December this year. It is based on open collaboration, which means that you are welcome to contribute your ideas and comments at: Besides artificial photosynthesis there are also food forests and rainwater harvesting included. Food forests can not only secure livelihoods, but they also cool local climate – hence the name of the proposal. And harvesting rainwater is essential for providing water for gardens and wild nature in dry areas of the world.

When the Andean glaciers melt completely, where will the water come from? Climate change means that in many areas of the world rains may become more erratic and that long droughts may become more frequent. In Bolivia the Uru Chipaya tribe has survived for 4,000 years on the barren plains of the Bolivian interior. Now, with the Lauca river drying up, they may be forced to leave their traditional lands and lifestyle and migrate to cities.

However, rivers can be restored, soil in the gardens can be kept cool and moist. But it takes knowledge of the basic rainwater harvesting techniques such as mulching, swale building or placing gabions across the stream to be able to do it. How can we teach people to look after their rivers? Where will the money for the workshops come from? One of the points of the Cool Proposal for governments of 192 countries is to create a fund especially for this purpose – to teach people how to harvest rainwater.

There is also a separate fund proposed for teaching people how to design food forests. Instead of clearing another patch of the rainforest for pasture or sowing maize, small farmers could establish forest gardens, so that the fertility of the soil could be maintained. The fund could provide money for educational courses, seed orchards, buying basic tools or creating educational centers.

Can I guarantee that the Cool Proposal will get on the table at climate negotiations? No. It’s up to us develop the proposal and to encourage governments to support it. If we can make it, then we might have a chance to improve the lives of millions of people and push forward solutions for more sustainable living.
(3 June 2009)
Marcin Gerwin is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

Green energy overtakes fossil fuel investment, says UN

Joseph Terry Macalister, Guardian
Green energy overtook fossil fuels in attracting investment for power generation for the first time last year, according to figures released today by the United Nations.

Wind, solar and other clean technologies attracted $140bn (£85bn) compared with $110bn for gas and coal for electrical power generation, with more than a third of the green cash destined for Britain and the rest of Europe.

The biggest growth for renewable investment came from China, India and other developing countries, which are fast catching up on the West in switching out of fossil fuels to improve energy security and tackle climate change.
(3 June 2009)

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