Now when pollution and global warming seem to be an accepted concern, people around the world are trying to come up with new option for running their cars (instead of opting for NOT running their cars, but that’s another story).
Brazil has had great success with ethanol produced from sugar cane, and the USA has been working on producing ethanol from corn, although this isn’t such a great alternative since the agribusiness in the USA consumes so much fertilizer, pesticides, energy and water, that running cars on corn based ethanol won’t really be helping the environment. Yet around the world people are still working on this problem and coming up with interesting, possible, solutions.
In Jagdalpur, India, a few people have begun growing jatropha, which produced seeds that can be made into biofuel. This plant can grow in wetlands and apparently can produce four times as much biofuel per hectare than soybeans, and ten times more than corn! According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, several Indian states have been encouraging this crop by starting farmers out with 500 free saplings.
Papua New Guinea has been experimenting with biofuel coming from coconut oil which is widely available on the island. An article in the BBC says that the people on the island of Bougainville have received inquiry request for this new development from as far as Europe and Iran. An interesting aspect of this project is that the oil is being produced in backyard refineries, thus creating more employment. There are also projects working to make biofuel from feedstock algae. Currently this sounds easier in theory than in practice, but they might just get it right in the future.
Here’s also a crash course on biofuels – according to the USA department of Energy.
Feeling a little adventuresome? Here are instructions on making your own biofuel.
05.15.07 – Japan is also experimenting with biofuels. The University of Tokyo is funding a project to make biofuel out of discarded rice hulls to be converted into ethanol. Japan is currently the second largest consumer of gasoline, after the USA. Read more about this project here.
06.11.07 – While in some cases biofuels seems to be a favorable approach to the burning of fossil fuels, in Colombia they seem to be causing poverty, displacement and violence. On June 5, 2007 the Guardian had an article about armed forces in Colombia, mainly paramilitaries, driving peasants off the land in order to promote palm oil for biofuel. The bizarre twist seems to be that the paramilitaries have realized that this is a cash crop that can be promoted without fear of eradication by the Colombian government, nor does it attract negative attention from the rest of the world, particularly from the USA and it’s never ending battle to fight drugs. The article also mentioned some of the peasants wanting to fight back, but finding out that deeds to their land had been falsified and thus had been “bought” by larger farmers. Colombia currently has about 3 million internally displaced people, making it one of the world’s worse cases, along with Darfur and Congo. And while the USA has spent over $5 billion for Plan Colombia, coca production rose by 8% last year.
06.21.07 – Today an article in the BBC highlighted yet another possible source for biofuels – fruit. This proposed fuel, called dimethylfuran, is said to hold 40% more energy than ethanol, does not evaporate so quickly, and is less volatile. Still the article mentioned the foreseeable problem of having fuel production compete for land with regular food crops.
06.25.07 – The Christian Science Monitor has yet another article of the world wide ripple effect biofuels are causing. Every year Mexico grows large amounts of agave to produce a national staple, tequila. But currently agave growers are starting to replace their traditional agave fields, some of which have been designated World Heritage sites by UNESCO, in order to grow corn for the growing USA demand for ethanol. This starting trend endangers not only a national, cultural, staple, but also puts the nation’s poorest at risk of hunger, since corn tortillas have been historically relied on to fend off starvation.
06.08.07 – Today the BBC has an article about his palm oil production for biofuels in Kalimantan has displaced numerous farmers off the land, some without any compensation. The EU’s promise to replace 10% of its transportation fuel, along with other demands for biofuels had pushed large companies to produce the crop however possible, in some cases leading to abuse of local farmers. Still negotiations are beginning to take place, some with the help of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which brings together retail, producers, and a variety of NGOs.
08.17.07 – An article in the BBC today says that a UK based team of scientist believe that reforestation and habitat protection would provide better results per square foot, than using the land to produce crops for biofuels. However, they do explain that so called second generation biofuels, meaning those that use feedstock, such as straw, grasses and wood, rather than grain and palm oils offered much better land conversion rates.
08.22.07 – Today the Guardian has an article about how the demand for biofuels, specially those made out of Maize have caused tortilla prices in Mexico to soar. Tortillas are a staple food in Mexicans diets, and the food item that has historically kept the poorest people from starving. The Mexican government negotiated a price freeze in February, but there is still fear that increase demand for Maize for fuel production will continue to jeopardize people’s ability to avoid hunger.
Image info here.