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Is making fuel from food a bad idea??

Post in 'The Green Room' started by DriftWood, Sep 18, 2006.

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  1. DriftWood

    DriftWood Minister of Fire

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    Is making fuel from food a bad idea??

    Canada's national public broadcaster (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) CBC Radio1, had a program on this question on the science program Quirks & Quarks . http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/

    September 16, 2006: Growing Green Energy. http://www.cbc.ca/quirks/archives/06-07/sep16.html

    We all know coal, oil and gas are just old plants, buried for millennia by nature. Now an increasing number of people are wondering, why not skip nature as a middleman, and grab the energy from the plants without waiting millions of years? This week September 16, 2006, we look at the new technologies for extracting green energy from plants and trees, known as biofuels, and just how much help this could give us with our energy and greenhouse gas problems.

    The biomass energy you've probably heard of is Ethanol, made from grains like corn in North America. Ethanol's been controversial for many reasons. Dr David Tilman, Professor of Ecology at the University of Minnesota thinks it might be the wrong way to go because of the large amount of fossil fuel energy it takes to make it, and because making fuel from food is a bad idea.NetDevilz

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  2. DonCT

    DonCT Minister of Fire

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    I think it's a good first step into replacing fossil fuels.

    They are really pushing toward using switch grass instead of corn for ethanol. I wonder if they'll complain about using that.
  3. Corey

    Corey Minister of Fire

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    It was my understanding that most, if not all, commercial ethanol is made from 'feed grade' corn (or worse) which is only ever intended for livestock feed or industrial purposes, not human consumption. You still get a product called 'dried distillers grains' after the ethanol production which is an excellent livestock feed. I don't think they are raiding the sweet corn patches or stealing from Orville Redenbacher.

    Corey
  4. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    The same question- in the most green manner - could be worded to say "Can we feed 15 pounds of corn calories and protein to a cow to produce one pound of beef?" - and, yet we do so to the tune of billions of pounds. Our current economy runs on cheap fuel and foods, which are closely related.

    Ideally we would do what Don suggest and find the most efficient plant in terms of BTU per acre and requiring less upkeep, fertilizer, etc. - and then convert this to fuel. It is sort of an amazing thing knowing that someday - in the not too far future, commercial jets may run on corn or grass!

    We are not running out of Farm land here in N. America. We are running out of cheap energy-based fertilizers for higher yields and delivery to markets anywhere at low (transport) prices.

    So, it's not the fuel from "food" that is the wrong idea, but rather we have to use intelligence and research to get as much back from our investments as possible. In other words, it seems stupid to even "double your money" and create 1,000,000 BTU from 500,000 of another fuel, when you could find another method to make 10X the input energy.

    Of course, there is not such thing as free energy - so what I am actually referring to is making best use of the Sun, water and wind and harnessing of same.

    When it comes to food we can rest easier know that, if it ever came to it, we could get 5 to 10X the population fed from the same land if we gave up Beef. Certainly that will never happen at one time, but if meat slowly rises in price to reflect the "input" needed to produce it, folks will eat smaller portions and substitute more efficient foods.
  5. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    I've read articles on using hybrid poplar trees instead of corn. Appearantly it's a viable alternative.

    Are we running out of fertilizer or just synthetic fertilizers? There seems to be as much "organic" fertilizer in cow barns as there was 100 yrs ago. The barns are just further than the cities now. Bring it to the garden and it still does the job it did years ago.

    IME, you get a better cut and a better price on meat at the butcher shop. Supermarkets sell crap for higher prices.

    Matt
  6. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Remember that the "organic" fertilizer is a result of the 15X more input than output given to the cow (10x for chicken)....so, no
    , we are running out of manure but it only adds a small percentage to the efficiency of commercial cattle raising.

    You can buy "free range" or organic meats, but that is a tiny % of the market. The vast majority of our plant and animal food is raised with massive amounts of energy inputs from:
    1. The fertilizer production process (mostly Natural Gas)
    2. Insecticide and weed killers (made from oil base)
    3. Tractors, sprayers, etc.
    4. Transportation of the finished product to market
    5. Refrigeration and freezing
    6. Packaging

    There is a program here in W .Mass called "Local Heros" which is well funded and tries to constantly convince people to "eat the view". In other words, if they like the look of the farms, support them by buying local veggies and meats. It seems to be working as "local" or "native" is a big word around here - a number of organic, co-op and other small farms are doing OK. The larger operations....such as 100% potato, seem to be phasing out as such production moves to the largest and cheapest sources (Maine, Idaho, etc.).

    Amazingly enough, the program tries to educate the general population on the amount of energy it takes to produce dinner! The radio ads feature a guy saying "Ok, let's go get what you need for dinner" and then mentioning that you have to go to California, the Midwest, etc. etc. for the average ingredients for dinner. Then, they push the "buy local" theme.

    This older post shows the charts as to input vs. output for many foods.
  7. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    I'm not catching something here. Maybe you can help me wrap my head around it. This is how I understand the process.

    Minerals are in the soil. Plants, regardless of whether they are trees or grasses, push their roots down into the soil and pull the minerals they need to grow. This will happen regardless of the way the land is being used and has happened for a good long time... possibly 5-6 billion years. Mr. bovine wanders over and says, "Hmm, what a tasty looking blade of grass. I think I'll get me some of that." So Mr. Bovine enjoys his buffet and gets his fill. He also processes many of the neutrients into convenient little packages and leaves them for my friend in his barn. So what is the difference if a cow eats the grass or it is left to rot and decompose on the ground? The cow just makes the process faster, more efficient. I don't understand where the 15x or 10x comes into this or is even relevant.

    Are we talking about fertilizer?

    When I mentioned the butcher markets earlier I was trying to save some folks some $$.

    Matt
  8. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    OK, at the risk of showing my lack of understanding......

    Your little picture is like saying "I simply go to the gas station, put my credit card in, fill up with gas and drive to my place of work". But what does it take to make the gas?

    The VAST MAJORITY of meat that consumers eat is factory farmed. This means the chickens are kept by the tens of thousands in little buildings and never see a blade of grass. They are fed crops - crops which have to be grown using fertilizers and all the other energy. You feed them 10 pounds of feed protein for every pound they produce in meat. The rest of the energy goes into numerous places, including poop and....most of it into thin air as their breath and body heat.

    It might be a nice picture seeing cows grazing on grass in Vermont of Pa, but the beef that you eat comes from large feedlots, where the vast majority of the "input" to the cattle is not grass, but feed that is trucked in - soybeans, corn, etc....again, a 15-20 to 1 ratio to produce a pound of beef (as per chart).

    Most beef is raised in "feedlots" - which are very scientific setups designed to get as much beef as possible out of a piece of land. The comfort of the beast is not a main objective. They are chock full of all the modern drugs and other chemicals that can make them produce more meat.

    from: http://www.panhandle.unl.edu/Personnel/wohlers/wohlersarticle3.htm

    "Pharmaceutical technology in the feedlot has had a significant impact on the profitability of the cow/calf segment."

    So, no - your Mickey D or even Outback meat was not raised in a pastoral setting. It was created in a factory farm.
    http://www.epa.gov/oecaagct/ag101/beefphases.html
    "Housing systems for beef cattle in confinement feedlots vary, depending on the climate in the area and topography of the site. They include total confinement buildings, open sheds and lots or open lots with windbreaks and/or shades. The lots are usually paved if located in humid climates to minimize mud problems."

    Hmmm, usually paved........
  9. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    There is more energy to be extracted Fermenting vegies also produce methane which can be uses for energy consumption.

    I wonder where all that spiniach went. pig farms also use garbage for feed
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