There’s been a lot of talk about ethanol as an alternative to petrol consumption – especially with the President taking some licks from Hugo down South this week. The Idaho State Journal has an interesting article on biodiesel today, another alternative which seems promising. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fervent advocate of conservation first and foremost…
…but biodiesel intrigues me. Biodiesel has the potential to involve decentralized production – I’ve got a friend who brews his own ! – meaning less fuel consumed transporting the fuel (one of those inconvenient truths Bush refuses to address regarding Brazil) – and hopefully the ag production of crops more suitable to a given region, though soy seems to be the preferred choice.
Another interesting fact is that a byproduct of producing biodiesel is often more valuable than the fuel itself ! High-grade glycerine – in fact, many small-scale producers consider the fuel to be a byproduct of glycerine production.
Either way – the more producers the better as far as I’m concerned. Americans’ energy dependency on few, key players holds us economically hostage to more than just the Middle East – we’re under the thumb of American fat-cats as well.
3 Responses to Biodiesel
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Here in Europe we have discussions at the moment about the negative impact of growing bio fuel, albeit the main concern is about large scale production not the homegrowing of your own gas. Some scientists have visions of endless monocultures of grossly overfertilized bio mass. They fear also that certain countries could sacrifice food production and favour production of bio mass instead just for the economical value in the global trade. Their nightmare are shipments of bio mass from say starving Ethiopia enroute to Europe….
And if you’ve been following Bush’s justifiably Protestor-plagued travels to South America (having seen the problems and caused by NAFTA, these folks wisely don’t want CAFTA or whatever snake oil he is selling), there have been some good articles about the exploitation of workers that is involved with ethanol production from sugar cane in Brazil.
Look at this, A Guardian UK story – and the haunting face of the migrant sugar cane cutter. It is deeply depressing: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2029908,00.html .
The article is entitled Brazil’s ethanol slaves: 200,000 migrant sugar cutters who prop up the renewable energy “boom”.
PLUS biofuels are definitely related to wolves. There has been plenty of talk of cutting and thinning trees and brush on public lands,and turning them into “biomass”. Of course, like everything else, once you get an industry of sorts going on National Forest or BLM Lands, greed will take over, and it won’t be the occasional thinning project – NO – there will be a push for Thinning for the Sake of Biomass Production’s Sake, covered up in the spiffiest of “hazardous fuels reduction” terminology, of course – (and maybe even covered under the Rocky Mtn Elk Foundation” new “stewardship contracting” authrority with BLM and the Forest Service???).
And I am betting if a Biomass industry based on public lands “material” ever gains momentum here, it will be based largely on the sweat of poor or migrant workers, too. Certainly ag production in the US – and any resultant crops, including ethanol produced in the US – more and more go that route. And a large-scale public lands biomass effort would ultimately cut into potential wolf habitat, and destroy habitat for a lot of critters that rely on thick cover.
Biodiesel is a very interesting alternative, and does seem to be at least one ‘answer’. I’ve also heard to farmers who “brew their own”, and use it in their farm vehicles. Very ecologically friendly, and saves the farmer a lot of money in fuel costs. There is even a biodiesel production center in the Seattle region.
The concerns that I’ve heard voiced, and had not even though of myself, are similar to those Peter addressed above. There is a tremendous potential for abuse. If we get our biodiesel from corn and soybeans (both very high energy yield crops), there could be thousands and thousands of acres of monocropping. Highest yield, shortest time, use of pesticides, herbicides, petroleum (yep) based fertilizers, genitically modified sterile seed (thank you Monsanto), and continued loss of top soil. In short, an environmental disaster.
If, however, we look at developing biodiesel in a responsible manner that will be sustainable, and have a positive impact for generations to come, I am all for it. We have to look at the total picture. Unfortunately, we cannot depend upon big business and government to come up with a long-range plan, it must be what the consumer demands.