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The (possible) downside of Bio-fuels

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Kickoutthejams23 Donating Member (354 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-21-06 10:43 PM
Original message
The (possible) downside of Bio-fuels
Edited on Mon Aug-21-06 10:46 PM by Kickoutthejams23
A scientist friend of mine works on Bio-fuels. (kind of a super ethanol) She and others are convinced that they will replace most gasoline in first world countries over the next 20 years. Here is the tin hat/scary part. Bio-fuels consume a lot of water and land and compete directly with food production. Companies estimate that most of the excess material needed for production will come from Africa which currently underutilizes it's farming potential. This will direct African food production and water use towards energy for first world nations (which is where the money is). US food prices will rise and farming communities that now seem economically backwards will start looking like boom towns. (This is already happening in parts of the midwest) First world nations will not export food that can be converted into energy (read cash) And African food resources will also be directed towards export. (which will make a small minority of Africans very rich) This is estimated to reduce the calories produced for African consumption by 40% of 2000 levels.

She says this in a very matter of fact manner. My question is what happens to Africans in 2020 if the calories available are 60% of 2000 levels
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roody Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-21-06 10:54 PM
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1. So let's stop feeding the food and water
to livestock to be so inefficiently turned into meat. A side effect of that will be better health for us.
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Ready4Change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Aug-21-06 10:59 PM
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2. Has your friend studied other crops, other fuel products?
Most broader studies I've read indicate pretty clearly that ethanol is one of the least efficient bio-fuel products. It is usually looked at as being produced from corn or grains, or perhaps wood pulps, and only barely produces more energy than is required for it's creation.

Biodiesel, on the other hand, produced from sources like soy, hemp or some grasses, produces a far better energy return, which equates to less cropland and less water used. Even better, some algaes have been studied that make even these better sources look like childs play. Yet it gets better. These algaes like growing in green houses, which can be placed in locations unsuitable for crops, and in colder climes than many of the better ethanol crops.

I'm sure your friend is doing worthwhile research, but I think ethanol is far from ideal.
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Dogmudgeon Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-22-06 12:15 AM
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3. David Pimentel has done most of the research on that
He doesn't think that agriculture-based fuels will dominate the market, but he does warn that they are not particularly efficient, AND that there could be competition between food and energy agriculture.

Predictably, Pimentel's name has been dragged through the mud recently by the bio-fuel advocates.

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Oerdin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-22-06 07:43 AM
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4. You are ignoring cellulosic ethanol.
By fermenting cellulose we can get a lot of ethanol without actually reducing the food supply. Also if we are going to ferment ethanol on an industrial scale then the ideal crop would be sugar cane and not corn, wheat, or rice. Sugar cane just has more sugar in it so it can produce more ethanol per acre of farmland. Sadly, our current policy on ethanol is one of protectionism where the US blocks or heavily tarrifs foreign grown sugar. The politicians want the votes of farmers and the farmers are growing corn so the politicians have blocked the importation of sugar to keep the farmers happy. The problem is this virtually doubles the price of ethanol and if we'd just stop pandering to fat cat agriculture companies we could roll out ethanol much faster.
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dcfirefighter Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-22-06 08:00 AM
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5. Allocation of Resources
The free market is great at allocating scarce resources AS LONG AS THOSE RESOURCES CAN BE CREATED.

ALL of the problems with 'capitalism' stem from failing to recognize this.

When the price of widgets rise due to increased demand, additional firms begin supplying them. Consumers and producers enjoy the optimum price, without shortages.

When the price of land (or water, or crude oil...) rise due to increased demand, Gaia still has the monopoly, and the price merely rises. With the rising price, those with land tend to hoard it, holding it on the speculation that the price will go higher.

To make this work in humanity's favor (and eliminate poverty in the process) this price needs to be shared. This is an excellent basis for taxation. Nations should tax the value of this land (etc.) until it's sale value decreases to near nothing --
- the price of land (etc.) is set entirely by the demand, as the supply is most permanently fixed
- the tax does not increase the demand, rather it decreases it, lowering the price
- thus the sale price, through taxation, can be converted to public revenue

For example, an untaxed parcel of land that sells for $100,000 would likely sell for $1000 if the owner were obligated to pay $5000 a year in taxes on it.

This has the net effect of putting each piece of land (etc.) to highest and best use, as determined by local & global economics. Generally: Urban sites will be developed with homes and businesses; rural sites will use their land more efficiently - intensive agriculture rather than extensive monoculture.

Under a scheme where taxes on sales, wages, and buildings were replaced with one on land (etc.) one could expect:
An increase in sales and commerce (and a concommant increase in manufacturing, commercial, and retail jobs)
An increase in wages (and a concommant increase in sales and commerce - these two reinforce each other)
An increase in buildings (and a concommant increase in construction jobs coupled with an increase in places of business, and housing units - lowering the cost of housing)
Intensive rather than extensive urban areas, decreasing transport costs such as pollution.
Increased agricultural yields per acre rather than merely increased profits per dollar invested
An increase in the price of meat vs. the price of grains, legumes, and vegetables.

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