Friday, November 5, 2010

2 key articles on

1. Our biofuel future: The bitter taste of land grabs and hunger

avatar for Ashley Braun

by Ashley Braun

I admit I haven't been paying the most attention to the topic of biofuels the past few years, after studies made fairly clear that the social, energy, and environmental benefits of the predominant player, corn ethanol, were generally overhyped when factors like oily fertilizers and the wisdom of converting more land to corn came into play.
Roz NaylorWould Roz by any other name find biofuels as sweet?Photo: Roz NaylorAs it turns out, this not-uncommon assumption, that the biofuel bubble has burst, is an a-maize-ing farce, pointed out Rosamond (Roz) Naylor, professor of environmental earth systems and economics at Stanford, in the second "Eating Your Environment" lecture I attended at the University of Washington last week.
Biofuel producers continue gushing out more and more biodiesel and ethanol each year: According to Naylor, the industry is expected to reach 24 billion gallons in 2010. Biofuels now make up 2 percent of total transportation fuel around the world, somewhat diluting the amount of petroleum we're pumping into our engines, at least directly. That may not seem like much compared to the 1.3 trillion gallons of gasoline consumed last year, but Asia's rapidly growing appetite for transportation fuels raises the question of whether the world can support such a massive transition from bicycle power to crude oil and ethanol. Unlike actual hunger, appetites for transportation fuels seem to be insatiable while the geological and biological systems producing these fuels have very real limits.

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2. The limits and potential of plant-based energy

avatar for Lester Brown

by Lester Brown

As oil and natural gas reserves are being depleted, the world's attention is increasingly turning to plant-based energy sources. These include food crops, forest industry byproducts, sugar industry byproducts, plantations of fast-growing trees, crop residues, and urban tree and yard wastes -- all of which can be used for electrical generation, heating, or the production of automotive fuels. The potential use of plant-based sources of energy is limited because even corn -- the most efficient of the grain crops -- can convert just 0.5 percent of solar energy into a usable form. In contrast, solar PV or solar thermal power plants convert roughly 15 percent of sunlight into a usable form, namely electricity. In a land-scarce world, energy crops cannot compete with solar electricity, much less with the far more land-efficient wind power.

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Biofuels are a wide range of fuels which are in some way derived from biomass.

Your idea?