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A Little Independent Energy Experiment on the Prairie
Maggie Koerth-Baker, The Smithsonian
In the middle of the Minnesota prairie sits Madelia, a town of a little more than 2300 people that is surrounded on all sides by miles upon miles of brown soil, tilled into neat rows. If you flew there in an airplane, Madelia would look like a button, sewn into the middle of a patchwork quilt—each farm divided into fields shaped like squares and circles, bordered by pale yellow gravel roads and by the narrow strips of bright green grass that grow alongside creeks and drainage ditches.
When the residents of a town such as Madelia think about the future of energy, the solutions they come up with are unsurprisingly centered on the land and what it can grow. In Madelia, however, those solutions look a little different from what you might expect. When Madelians imagine the future of energy, they don’t see prairie dotted with big ethanol refineries, where corn grown by hundreds of farmers is processed into fuel that will be sold all around the United States. Instead, they’re thinking about something much more local. Madelia is a small town with a big plan to produce fuel made from local materials for local markets. From the native grasses that easily grow in prairie soil to leftover beaks and pieces from a nearby chicken canning factory, anything that can grow within a 25-mile radius of town is fair game.
Why would a generally conservative town, populated by a lot of generally risk-averse farm families, want to stake a decent amount of time and money on the cutting edge of alternative energy? When I traveled to Madelia, I ran headlong into the reason before I’d even reached the town itself. My moment of enlightenment happened a few miles outside the city limits, on the narrow blacktop of Highway 60, when I came very close to driving my car into a ditch…
(6 April 2012)
Analysis raises atmospheric, economic doubts about forest bioenergy
Oregan State University
A large, global move to produce more energy from forest biomass may be possible and already is beginning in some places, but scientists say in a new analysis that such large-scale bioenergy production from forest biomass is unsustainable and will increase greenhouse gas emissions.
Early suggestions that such a forest biofuel industry would be greenhouse “neutral” or even reduce greenhouse emissions “are based on erroneous assumptions,” a group of international researchers said in an invited analysis in Global Change Biology/Bioenergy, a professional journal.
A major increase in this industry, they concluded, would also result in shorter tree rotations, younger forests, depleted soil nutrients, increased risk of erosion, loss of forest biodiversity and function, higher costs for bioenergy than are now being anticipated, and increased use of fertilizers – also a source of greenhouse emissions.
“The main objective of bioenergy production from forest harvest is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the strategy is likely to miss the mark,” said Beverly Law, a professor of forest science at Oregon State University and one of the co-authors…
(18 April 2012)
NASA one step closer to turning algae into fuel
Heather Ishimaru, ABC
NASA has been working to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and it’s now getting some help from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Tuesday the space agency showed off its efforts to turn algae into fuel…
After two years, $10 million from NASA and $800,000 from the state, Trent and his team think they’ve found a way, using wastewater as fertilizer. A San Francisco PUC water treatment plant loaned NASA some tanks and wastewater to experiment.
“We have flue gas, gas that’s rich in CO2 that we can feed to the algae and we have saltwater in these tanks to test our ideas of keeping algae afloat and test the idea that we might be able to kill algae if they escape in sea water,” Trent said….
(17 April 2012)