|Political Hot Air|
While the political winds of mindlessness only blow through every four years, the impact of our choices linger. But the same could be true of many of our decisions - what we choose for fuel, how we build our homes, how we educate our children.
So in the last blog, I had thought about a comment regarding the use of water for the production of corn, and the impact this would have on food prices. But it seemed this was a pretty bold statement, and worth fact-checking. Where and how? Any “Fact Check” websites are sponsored, and thus likely skewed. But a critical review of a few data sources will usually surface some reliable information.
What I learned from the Energy Fact Check, a resource of the American Council on Renewable Energy, is that historically, if the farm price of corn increases 50 percent, then retail food prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases by 0.5 to 1 percent.” (Source: USDA, http://1.usa.gov/ONCzk5). Which would indicate that the increase use of corn for fuel can’t be held responsible for food price increase. But there is still a question of water consumption, which raises several questions. Is biofuel an efficient source of fuel , and should we be using our limited water resources of food or for energy? If we do choose to use crops for energy, which has the least impact on water? These are big questions, and I don’t presume to present a conclusive opinion with such a limited amount of research, but I did find some interesting facts. First of all, from a nation-centric viewpoint, the US is a net exporter of corn, increasingly to China. But that doesn’t negate the global viewpoint of water for fuel or food. Digging a bit further, I learn from studies at the University of Twente, in the Netherlands, is that corn (maize) and sugarbeets are the most water efficient of the biomass crops. Also, that it is more efficient to use the entire biomass (stems and leaves), to produce electricity than to produce a biofuel. This might support a shift to electric cars, vs. fuel. Additionally, Argonne National Labs has identified that some biomass feedstocks, such as crop residue, are estimated at more than 100 percent cleaner than traditional gasoline. We also learn that the ethanol plants byproduct of dry grains and solubles has a market value as feed to dairy and beef cattle. And that ethanol blends reduce the GHG emissions per mile driven, more so in cellulosic ethanol than in corn ethanol. So the question really seems to not be should we growing corn for food or for fuel, but can we switch to managed biomass farms, such as switchgrass. The large energy and GHG emission benefits and the great potential of cellulosic ethanol supply are recognized in the 2005 Energy Bill.
|Saab - BioFuel Vehicle|
So the next time the question of transportation fuel comes up, and there are heated discussions of fracking, or gasoline pipelines - I can point to Sweden, who has quietly and effectively eliminated these discussions by a wholesale conversion to cellulose fuel. Not only have the Swedish car manufacturers gotten a jump-start in developing flex-fuel models which can run on up to 85 percent ethanol blends, but the country is well on its way to breaking dependence on fossil fuel by 2020. This goal was set as recently as 2005 - the same time the US signed the ‘Energy Bill.’ This is not to say that Sweden does not have challenges with supporting sustainable biomass stock from waste and not triggering a deforestation in developing countries providing biomass. And the fundamental question of transportation by car use, and fuel based, comes into question. But these are discussions which lead to solutions, not dogma which leads… nowhere.
I won’t pontificate here with any obvious conclusions, but just point to the benefits of looking at facts, having a reasoned discussion, and seeking solutions. That is just my opinion.