Smc Newsletter November 06


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Smc Newsletter November 06

  1. 1. Volume 1, Number 11, – November 2006 In a word—no. As world oil supplies tighten, many think ethanol and biodiesel can fill the gap between petroleum supply and liquid fuel demand. To see how much food crops can contribute to our fuel supply, we need a clear idea of the amount of fuel needed. The US currently consumes 21 million barrels of oil a day. If all of the energy in a day’s oil were converted to food calories, that food could feed 32 times the US population. Can we devote 32 times the food energy we eat—to fuel and chemicals and the other things we do with oil? Plainly not—crop yields are no longer increasing and almost all of our arable land is already in use. But it’s worse than that: Food crops we produce need oil for tractor fuel, pesticides and herbicides, and natural gas for fertilizer. Distilling ethanol takes energy. Some scientists say it takes more energy to make a gallon of corn ethanol than it yields. If they’re right, ethanol is replacing no fossil fuel, or is a net consumer. Even if they’re wrong, the energy gain in making ethanol from corn is small at best. Problems Can’t we just switch to biofuels—and relax? People you should contact about peak oil: •Senator Barbara Boxer act/email/policy.cfm •Senator Dianne Feinstein stein/email.html •Congressman Sam Farr 1221 Longworth House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 (202) 225-2861 FAX (202) 225-6791 •Governor Arnold Schw… •President George Bush Thanks to all those who have contributed help and funds to SMC with soybean biodiesel are similar. Other biofuel sources, such as oil- bearing algae, appear promising, but are in early R&D, with unknown feasibility. We know conversion of food crops for fuel is growing. Largely because of subsidies, 20% of US corn is used for ethanol. Ethanol production has been growing at about 30% per year. We know world grain reserves are shrinking—from 116 days in 2000 to 57 days later this year. If we continue diverting food to fuel, we will soon have fuel producers outbidding people wishing to eat. What tradeoff will we make when that time arrives? A car (22 mpg) can go about 2 miles on the energy in a day's human diet. This means that driving 12,000 miles a year, an American consumes enough energy to feed 16 people, plus the energy needed to make and maintain the car and the roads. If we continue on our present course, we will soon see a sharp rise in the cost of food crops that are also used for fuel. In the end we will have to change the way we transport ourselves, and the way we eat. We can begin that now, or wait until after a lot more people have to go Mission: To ensure an orderly transition through the fossil fuel decline by cooperatively developing a sustainable economy for Monterey County. Nov. 8: Brainstorm session, CV, CV Comm. Chapel, Wednesday, 7-9 pm Nov. 9: SMC Discussion Group: Biofuels, Thurs., 6:45-9pm, Mry Youth Center, 777 Pearl St. Dec. 7: SMC Discussion Group: “Future Directions” & Potluck dinner, Thurs., 6:45-9pm, Monterey Youth Center, UPCOMING EVENTS 777 Pearl Street Jan. 11: SMC Discussion Group: Economy, Thurs., 6:45-9pm, Mry Youth Center, 777 Pearl St.
  2. 2. S U S T A I N A B L E M O N T E R E Y C O U N T Y Biofuels are touted as renewable and carbon neutral, and theoretically could be, but: • Burning tropical forests to make way for palm oil plantations and sugar cane releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. • US agriculture uses so much fossil fuel to grow crops, our biofuel production is approximately the conversion of fossil fuels to biofuel. • Current US practices involve unsustainable depletion of soil and aquifers. • Biofuels will probably never scale to cover our liquid fuels shortfall. • Many people are lulled into IF BIOFUELS COULD BE SO GREAT WHY AREN’T THEY? What is biodiesel? Biodiesel is a liquid motor fuel made by chemically processing oil or fat of biological origin, i.e.: animal fat, vegetable oil, used deep-fryer fat, oil from algae, etc. These biological oils and fats are usually processed with lye, or another alkali, and an alcohol such as methanol, to yield soap, glycerol and diesel fuel. Much has been made of vehicles powered by waste cooking oil processed in mobile labs—driving around trailing the aroma of doughnuts or French fries—but there isn’t nearly enough waste cooking oil to make a dent in our demand for motor fuel. We shouldn’t throw it in landfills, but it won’t make us energy independent. Other sources in current or foreseeable use are listed in the table at the bottom of the page, along with annual production estimates per acre. Most oil source crops would require enormous tracts of land to replace even a significant fraction of current transportation fuel production. Furthermore, this would be happening when we should expect scarcity of fertilizer, pesticides and farm fuel to strain our ability to maintain current crop yields. The real hope for biodiesel lies with certain types of algae— some that produce more than half their weight as oil. A University of New Hampshire (UNH) paper claims that all current US transportation fuel demands could be met, based on a National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) study, using just 15,000 square miles in a suitably sunny climate—that’s about ¾ of the area of San Bernardino County, California. The author of the UNH study said, in a telephone conversation with me, that he believes these algae can be grown on waste streams generated in animal production, or human sewage or agricultural runoff. The NREL study also showed that some algae could be induced to take up large amounts of carbon dioxide from power-plant emissions. The paradox of biofuels is that the great promise—like renewable algae ponds in the desert--remains unrealized, while markets blithely and destructively plunge ahead. Biodiesel source organisms Source Gallons per acre- year Comment Soybeans 50 Would displace current food crops Rapeseed 110 Ditto—common European source Mustard 140 Jatropha 175 Semi-arid climates, marginal land Palm Oil 650 Tropical forest burning to clear Algae 10,000-20,000 In early development, may not work out
  3. 3. S U S T A I N A B L E M O N T E R E Y C O U N T Y C2H5OH H H | | H-C-C-O-H | | H H It’s the same stuff that’s in your wine, beer or whiskey, but you can be sure it will be made to taste nasty when you find it in fuel, at least in the US. Government doesn’t want you drinking fuel ethanol. It’s soluble in all mixture ratios with water, and the pure form will take on water whenever it’s exposed to air. What’s the debate about? Depending on whom you believe, ethanol might yield about 70% as much energy as it takes to make it, or it might yield 160%, but it’s likely to be somewhere between those two numbers. Why is it controversial? There are a lot of inputs to the production of growing corn, breaking down the starch, fermenting the resulting sugar, separating ethanol from water, etc. How much energy goes into the production of a tractor, and how soon does it need to be replaced? How much of the corn crop is irrigated, and how much energy does it take to do the irrigation? How much energy does it take to make and transport fertilizer, and how much does each corn farmer use? How do you credit the byproducts of ethanol production (distillers grains), and how should that change if the feed market for them becomes saturated? However, in the best case, it isn’t a silver bullet. ETHANOL We have to get over the urge to grasp at a single simple energy solution. We will eventually have to do everything we can think of, and then some. Further Reading Costs of Ethanol Production with Corn by David Pimentel One rebuttal to Pimentel Energy Bulletin Oil Addiction: The World in Peril, Pierre Chomat Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Lester R. Brown Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage, Kenneth Deffeyes The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, Richard Heinberg SMC Gift Selection Please Donate Now Thank you for contributing to Sustainable Monterey County—beyond Peak Oil. As an organization dedicated to providing free education and outreach to our community we rely on the generous support of friends and donors. We operate on 100% donations. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation of $50 or more. $50 Hosts a discussion group meeting $75 Covers monthly printing costs $120 Annual Helper = $10 a month $240 Supporter = $20 a month $365 Annual Supporter = $1 a day $500 Hosts one show of “Tomorrow Matters” KRXA 540 Am (starts September 10th 2 PM) $1,000 Benefactor $5,000 Sponsor $ _________ (other) I wish to remain anonymous. Please make donations payable to “Action Council of Monterey County”, with SMC in the tag line. Make sure your return address is clear; we will process your donation and mail you an acknowledgement receipt for your tax records. Do not send cash in the mail. Mail to SMC P.O. Box 4060, Monterey, CA 93940 SMC respects the privacy of our donors; we do not sell, trade or rent our donor lists.
  4. 4. Steering Committee Members Deborah Lindsay, Director Ruth Smith, 831-620-1303 Committee Chair and Budget Chair Virginia Chomat, Secretary and Co-treasurer Pierre Chomat, Resident Expert Mark Folsom, Newsletter Editor, George Wilson, 831-372-0659 Committee Evaluation Coordinator Denyse Frischmuth, 831-643-0707 Volunteer Coordinator and Urban Environmental Accords Coordinator Robert Frischmuth, Co-Treasurer Program Heads, Annette Chaplin, 831-372-8725 Sustainable Pacific Grove Linda Parker, phone # 831-656-0664 Big Sur Powerdown C O N T A C T I N F O R M A T I O N MARK FOLSOM: Phone: 831 648 1543 E-Mail: We’re on the Web! See us at: groups/monter ey Newsletter Design by Adrienne Allen Director’s Note There are two goals SMC is interested in fulfilling. One: to create energy independent communities to manage the fossil fuel decline with the minimum of crises. This has been our goal since inception. Two: to lower carbon emissions and head off global climate disruptions. This is not one of our stated objectives, but it has become increasingly a concern of many, and is of course a huge predicament in of itself. More importantly, to become a sustainable Monterey County, we must look at both problems. The two issues combine like salad dressing, they blend, they are of the same stuff, and they pour onto the conversation easily. One deals with what goes in the tank, the other deals with what comes out. Many of our newsletter topics have addressed both ends of the tank and as you can see this month’s issue on Biofuels is the same. Can they replace fossil fuels, will they meet the needs of our current fleet of vehicles, and how much CO2 do they produce? All these questions have caused SMC to stop in our tracks and get clear on our position. This newsletter is our position; we cannot support Biofuels as the solution to either problem. In fact, they cause more problems; topsoil depletion, rain forest deforestation, habitat erosion, starvation, and so on. The only real solution is to lower our consumption to match the expected depletion rate of 3% per year; at least that helps the Peak Oil issue. As for climate change, we have to respond much much faster. Humanity is at risk. We need to go at both issues with unwavering commitment and attention, very little else matters. Tonight, rather then calculating your daily calories, your investment status, or when a TV show will be on next…calculate your carbon emissions, or your carbon “footprint”: go to In the end, what goes in your tank, on your salad, up in smoke, under your foot, out your exhaust … is all that really matters. It’s time to be stewards of the Earth, time to be sustainable, Monterey County. --Deborah Late every summer, large areas of central Borneo become invisible. There’s no magic involved—most of the densely forested island simply gets covered with a pall of thick smoke. Huge areas of forest burn, while beneath the ground peat many metres thick smoulders on for months. These trees are burning for a good cause, however. They are burning to help save the world from global warming. Here is how the logic goes. As the natural forest is cleared, land opens up for lucrative palm-oil plantations. Palm oil is a feedstock for biodiesel, the “carbon-neutral” fuel that the European Union is trying to encourage by converting its vehicle fleet. By reducing use of fossil fuels for its cars and trucks, the EU believes it can reduce its carbon emissions and thereby help mitigate global warming. Everyone is happy. (Except the orang-utan. It gets to go extinct.) --Mark Lynas, Frankenstein Fuels, The New Statesman (London) August 7, 2006