Thursday, June 05, 2008

BioFuel in Your Car AND Food in Your Belly??

McGill plant biologist Donald Smith has a nice little article: "Not all biofuels take food off the table" in the Globe and Mail, ending with a call to action:

"We can produce biofuels that won't exacerbate the global food crisis. We should be working as hard as we can right now to do just that."

Good to know some Canadian research dollars are being used to think about what is becoming the single most important economic issue of our time. My guess is not nearly enough - although I confess I'm ignorant as to exactly how much we invest in agricultural and energy research. Maybe it should be one field....agro-energetics...


6 comments:

rob said...

The way I understand it, biofuels are really just a poorly disguised farm subsidy. Biofuels, especially corn, are not a solution to any environmental issue.

Anonymous said...

I agree. But what about algaculture? You can use algae for biofuel production instead of corn. That should avoid the problem of driving up food prices.

Bayman said...

Biofuels, especially corn, are not a solution to any environmental issue.

Exactly. What I liked about the article was the point that biofuels do indeed impinge on the food supply, but that they are not all equal in this respect. The best fuel sources to develop are those which are otherwise unusable to the human body. Developing technology to convert cellulose in corn husks and stalks for example, is well within reach.

Harnessing solar energy using algae is a very cool idea. They can also capable of producing hydrogen rather than ethanolic fuel.

How about a hybrid - photosynthetic algae that convert cellulose into hydrogen?

rob said...

I still think biofuels are a bust. Many people have been saying this for some time now.
http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/july05/ethanol.toocostly.ssl.html
The amount of energy that goes into industrial agriculture is enormous and was built around a system of cheap energy. It won't function as a net energy producer as it has evolved to produce most food/$ not most energy in/energy out.

Bayman said...

amount of energy that goes into industrial agriculture is enormous and was built around a system of cheap energy. It won't function as a net energy producer as it has evolved to produce most food/$ not most energy in/energy out.

That's a good point.

That should not in the least be justification to declare that all possible forms and usages of biological fuels are "a bust". One just has to think outside the box of fossil fuel-driven industrial mass-production to imagine the economic possibilities that our current level of biological knowledge offers. Distributed and localized production being one obvious one that fossil fuels could never match.

Bayman said...

I also agree that no fossil fuel alternative will be adequate to keep civilization going unless consumption habits are also largely reduced - luckily there's tons of room for improvement here as well...