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A Biofuel Reality Check; A Sane Voice from Iowa Farm Country By Michael Richards

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Demeter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-25-08 02:43 AM
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A Biofuel Reality Check; A Sane Voice from Iowa Farm Country By Michael Richards


Most of what is being marketed as Green Fuel is not green and sustainable at all. We must study the context of agriculture and processing from a whole systems perspective. True green energy can only be produced within a well-designed sustainable ecology. This type of analysis, policy and action is not taking place through any official channels. Without such whole systems science, the mad rush to biofuels will be as damaging to the environment and global climate as the present global petro-chemical economy. All sides of this important discussion need to seek a factual and scientific basis for policy decisions and new energy enterprise.

We need an intelligent biofuel reality check. The first fact to face is that it is biologically, physically and mathematically impossible to replace fossil fuel with biofuel. U of Mass. Biologist Jeffrey Dukes calculated that the fossil fuels we presently burn in one year were produced from stores of organic matter "containing 44~10 to the 18 grams of carbon, which is more than 400 times the net primary productivity of the planet's current biota." In plain and simple English, this means that every year we use four centuries' worth of planetary plant and animal matter that were converted into fossil fuel over many millions of years. Every single barrel of oil replaces 25,000 man hours of human labor energy. The idea that we can simply replace fossil fuel and the extraordinary power density it provides with a fast market shift to green energy is the stuff of wild science fiction. There is simply no rational substitute for cutting back on energy consumption. The most important step toward a sustainable Post Petrol Paradigm is to initiate resource conservation on a heroic global scale. A truly sustainable society requires a very radical departure from the present energy consumption paradigm. To just change fuels, without changing the underlying social and economic paradigm is an absurd folly.

Fossil fuel substitutes such as ethanol and biodiesel are being sought frantically all over the planet. Most decision makers in government and industry are not ready to face the hard decisions that climate change and effective, scientific, long term environmental management demands. In many cases biofuel conversion amounts to a cure that is a bigger problem than the petroleum problem. Many biofuel evangelists are as strident in their denial of scientific reality and hard facts as many petroleum executives are in their denial of peak oil.

The biodiesel industry developed the world's most carbon-intensive fuel in the form of palm oil biodiesel. In the promotion of biodiesel in the European Union, the British and US governments and by thousands of environmental campaigners, we are given the false impression that we are just creating a benign market for waste cooking oil, soybean oil, canola oil, or oil from algae grown in desert ponds. Its very important to study the entire context and ecological impact of biofuel production and alternative energy. A global rush to green fuel is actually leading to a major environmental disaster. Get the facts. Get the whole story.
The fact is, the human race can design effective life support systems without high energy consumption. In my book, SUSTAINABLE OPERATING SYSTEMS/The Post Petrol Paradigm, I refer to this new socio-economic system as a techno-agrarian society. We must discern which human endeavors are constructive and which are destructive technology. We presently only measure economic value in the amount of cash produced, without a scientific analysis of the total system. A new ecological/economic metric is essential for human survival.....


The above essay was written as a guest article by Michael Richards author of; Sustainable Operating Systems/The Post Petrol Paradigm (available at author founded a not for profit educational and research organization; Sustainable Ecological Economic Development (S.E.E.D.) Contact can be made at or by calling 319-213-2051

Authors Website:

Authors Bio: Michael Richards is a life long innovator, entrepreneur and author. His most recent book is; SUSTAINABLE OPERATING SYSTEMS/The Post Petrol Paradigm (available on line at; Mr. Richards has presented as an author, speaker and conference leader at universities and conferences in USA,Asia and Europe this year. Contact at 319-213-2051 USA. Michael Richards is the inventor of soybean oil wax replacements for petroleum wax. He serves as President of Soyawax International, a US firm that ships product to 25 nations. Michael Richards is the founder of a not for profit research and educational organization; SUSTAINABLE ECOLOGICAL ECONONIC DEVELOPMENT (S.E.E.D.) SEED orgainizes conferences for city, state and governmental organizations to work on conversion to sustainable economic alternatives.

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lapfog_1 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-25-08 03:02 AM
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1. Corn and soybeans are NOT the answer.
But there are other things one can grow instead, specifically Algae.

Algae would only need about 15,000 square miles, many of which are not in use for crops, to completely replace all of the transportation uses of oil.

"That 15,000 square miles works out to roughly 9.5 million acres - far less than the 450 million acres currently used for crop farming in the US, and the over 500 million acres used as grazing land for farm animals."

Currently there are pilot large scale algae ponds, including a recently announced project in Texas... (press release)...

The Rio Hondo, Texas algae farm will commence operations on April 1,
2008 as PetroSun's initial commercial algae-to-biofuels facility.
The current algae farm consists of 1,100 acres of saltwater ponds
that the Company projects will produce a minimum of 4.4 million
gallons of algal oil and 110 million pounds of biomass on an annual
basis. The Company has dedicated 20 acres of ponds for a proposed
algae derived JP8 jet fuel research and development program.

That's a minimum of $12M net proceeds on 1100 acres per year (if they refine it themselves and with their estimated cost of production). I know a *lot* of farmers in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and other places in the desert southwest that would love to make even a fraction of that amount per year from their farms. The capital costs are not for the faint of heart, as the ponds that you grow algae in should be covered (for a number of reasons, starting with water evaporation, but primarily to exclude other species of algae). The nice thing is the the species that many people are looking at don't need fresh water, brackish to salty are just fine.

Ponds will look something like this...

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couriousg Donating Member (22 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-25-08 03:28 AM
Response to Original message
2. AMEN!
And lets not burn up our damn FOOD SUPPLY to make fuel!!!
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acmavm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-25-08 05:32 AM
Response to Reply #2
3. Why, I've been told right here on DU that turning grain into biofuels won't
even make a dent is the food supply.

Of course I've been told a lot of shit here that just doesn't make a damn bit of sense.
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