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The Forum > Article Comments > Biofuels - a solution that will make the problem worse > Comments

Biofuels - a solution that will make the problem worse : Comments

By Nick Rose, published 22/11/2007

From every perspective other than the purely short-term commercial, biofuels make little sense.

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The questions must be why biofuels and which kind? The long awaited hydrogen fuel cell car seems as distant as ever and battery cars are best suited to inner city hops. Liquid fuel has high energy density, does not require extraordinary containment measures and runs in piston engines that are relatively cheap and reliable. Third world farmers will need energy dense fuel to run cultivators and jitneys to take produce to market.

I think the answer must be that less developed countries use biomethane and jatropha biodiesel for themselves, not for export. Wealthier countries should electrify transport as much as possible and use second generation biofuels to fill the remaining gap. Currently these fuels have huge capital costs and technical glitches but they can use non-food biomass such as straw, sawdust and garbage.

I agree that wealthy countries should not be subsidising grain ethanol or importing unsustainable palm oil to drive their Mercs and Beemers. They must change their requirements to ensure that the biofuel technology is appropriate. And carbon tax the hell out of coal-to-liquids with double the well-to-wheel emissions of current petrofuels.
Posted by Taswegian, Thursday, 22 November 2007 9:22:50 AM
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The article is pretty much on the ball biofuels as a panacea have whiskers on them. But worthwhile elements do exist.

CSIRO workers were conducting an interesting project until support for it was discontinued insufficient return on financial investment within required time frame.

The project embraced three concerns:
Remediation of degraded landscapes.
Creation of employment in rural communities
Production of methanol (with mainly transport in mind) in a truly carbon-neutral process.

Biofuels, as a stand-alone issue, continues to get attention. Interesting is a quote regarding the difficulty of using some biodiesel in cold weather that processed from animal fats and some vegetable oils. Some liquids are transformed to wax. (Try cleaning the windscreen with Eucalyptus oil, and then driving in frosty evenings). Most interesting is attempts by the biofuels industry to have standards for fuel lowered to accommodate this. Will political lobbying prevail over technology?
Posted by colinsett, Thursday, 22 November 2007 10:21:08 AM
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the best short term measure is to stop riding in cars. a lot of transportation could be walking, bicycling, motorscooters, electric buggies, and good old public transport.

telling the public this is career suicide for politicians.

scientists can say it, without legal force. fossil energy corporations will stall, obfuscate, and bribe pollies.

a nation with citizen initiative can breakthrough this and get big things done. too bad that's not us.
Posted by DEMOS, Thursday, 22 November 2007 10:23:53 AM
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This article is excellent and shows just how far out of touch people like Mark Vaille are. From various sources I have roughly converted world consumption of fossil fuels and production of grains and sugars to billions of tonnes of coal equivalents per annum. The human race consumes about 8.5 billion tonnes as fuel and produces 1.6 billion tonnes as food, including livestock feed grain. So if everyone was to starve the human race could produce 10% of our fuel needs if conversion was 50% efficient which it isn't.
Jatropha production in presently underutilised areas of northern tropical areas of Australia could probably supply sufficient bio-diesel to fuel Australia's tractors, ambulances, fire engines and essential defence services but not much else but no grain should be used for those purposes. There are too many people in the world and too many of them are hungry.
Posted by Foyle, Thursday, 22 November 2007 11:43:42 AM
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Jatropha, aka Bellyache bush, is highly toxic to both animals & humans. It spreads extremely rapidly, expecially along roads and riverbanks and crowds out other plants. If you're a farmer, pray you never get it coming up in your paddocks.

Its a noxious weed that cannot be farmed en masse without it spreading & taking over vast tracts of productive land. Diverting food crops to make fuel is self-destructive ... but cultivating jatropha would be suicidal.
Posted by commuter, Thursday, 22 November 2007 12:05:01 PM
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I agree that using food crops such as corn and palm is ridiculous, but I would also say that biofuels are a very real alternative if produced using permaculture principals, any policy that dictates removal of the car from our society will fail, people vote on silly issues such as fuel prices, we are to selfish to pass up the car, so if we have to stick with it, what can we do?

We need to force car makers to implement fuel effeciency and remove ridiculous 4x4 from our roads with disincentives, we need to get rid of taxes that encourage adding kilometers as a tax saving, using permaculure principals to establish non-food crops for biofuels, made locally, used locally, we need to make it unacceptable to deforest in order to create biofuels, the CSIRO were developing yeast that could break down any plant fiber into ethanol i.e grasses, until Howard put them onto clean coal "Ha, Ha. If we don't back ethanol and biodiesl we will end up with big corporates coal-to-liquids and nuclear powered battery cars, the combustion engine is cheap and already abundant, if you think outside the box and don't believe the hype anything is possible in a positive way, most of these positive outcomes involve resting away the power from big companies and their agenda, do we have what it takes?

Consider reading "Alcohol can be a gas!" by David Blume, http://www.permaculture.com/book_menu/195/231/323 as suggested above using permaclture principals and denying big industries control of fuels we could end up with a cleaner more fertile world with localised industries supporting local communities (good energy decent and good farming practices rolled into one), it just take a few of us to realise the Biofuels look so unatractive beacause they are when Corporate greed is dictating the policy.
Posted by Warren, Thursday, 22 November 2007 12:31:17 PM
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