...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, April 25, 2008

Day 2662: Biofuel Bad


(All that typing about Master Gideon left my nose VERY tired last week, so there are GAPS in my diary again that I've got to fill in.)

A new law came in saying that all petrol for cars must now include something called BIOFUELS.

What this means is… you know how OIL and COAL got made by lots and lots of plants getting buried under the Earth and millions and millions of years of SQUISHING going on to squeeze them into OIL? Well, the idea is to cut out the GEOLOGICAL middle-man and make oil straight from the plants.

On the face of it, that might seem like quite a good idea. Instead of unlocking carbon deposits from under the Earth, we would be locking up the CO2 first before releasing it, the very definition of carbon neutral.

Except, of course, processes like that are RARELY 100% efficient, so you wouldn't be REALLY completely neutral.

Farmers in Europe, America and even Brazil, for years cursed with GRAIN MOUNTAINS, WINE LAKES and BUTTER ESCARPMENTS have seen the development of bio-ethanol as a great BOON, because it is a way for them to greatly increase the economic value of their land: rather than being subsidised to not use it, they can get a good price for a fuel crop and by reducing the amount of cereal on the market, get a better price for that too. It sounds like a WIN-WIN scenario until you remember that that better price for the farmer means that it has cost SOMEONE more to eat.

And if you think about it you don't have MILLIONS of years' worth of plants storing up sunlight energy in their carbohydratey goodness, you only have THIS year's crop.

But this year's crop is ALREADY looking a bit too THIN to feed all of the animals and people and animals-that-will-go-to-feed-people without taking out a great area of land to grow car food.

Even if it wasn't for current crises in farming like drought and poor harvests, the simple fact is that there are just too many people.

Leaders in Latin America have issued a warning that using growing land for fuel crops instead of food is harming some of the poorest people in the world and there have even been RIOTS in Haiti.

Anyway, you probably already know that my PREFERRED alternative is to use untapped sources of RENEWABLE ENERGY (like windmills) to turn water into easily-portable* Hydrogen (plus spare Oxygen in the air) to use in fuel cells that turn the Hydrogen (with Oxygen from the air) back into water and energy.

(*No, don't think Hindenburg; liquid Hydrogen is no more dangerous than Petrol… which means QUITE dangerous but within acceptable and controllable limits.)

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