Counterpoint: biodiesel is ecologically expensive and not a solution to petroleum fuel use at all

Portland Indymedia (pdximc) has a long and interesting post on the ecological costs of shifting from fossil fuels to biodiesel in particular that is very interesting. In short, it states that we use 1 billion gallons of fossil fuel per day and that we only generate 1.5 billion gallons of vegetable oil per year. He posits that were we to shift radically from fossil to bio fuels, we would simply shift the burden over onto unsustainably producing the necessary bio feed stocks – feeding human food to cars as it were. He finishes by saying that looking for another fuel – any fuel – to continue our unsustainable energy usage patterns simply props up a flawed energy usage culture for a little bit longer, while shifting the costs around to another place, making us feel better, and gaining some air quality.

Of course, all energy sources have pros, cons, weaknesses, strengths. And of course, varying outputs per dollar invested and varying environmental, social, and cultural costs.

However, I am going to explore this topic more in future postings. It is an interesting counter-point to my recent thinking about the benefits of biofuels.

(7) Comments

  1. Avatar

    Specific species of algae with a high natural oil content provide an alternative to processing crops for fuel.

    Using sea or waste waters (depending on locality), these algae can be bred and processed into biodiesel. Though I cannot find the original article that pointed me in this direction, googling algae biodiesel results in a wealth of relevant sites.

  2. Avatar

    In a similar vein, Craig Venter (human genome fame) is now running the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives and they are examining the energy conversion functions in seawater and algae to find efficient and cheap solar energy conversion methods.

    I have been mulling the “biodiesel is bad” idea and a few main points that I still like about it are: no CO2 emissions, lessens the demand for oil which lessens the global security issues.

    But the previous counterpoint article is good in that it discusses the ratio of current demand on oil vs. the current global total production of corn. It may indeed only be able to provide a very slim percentage of all fuels now and in the future.

    I definitely want to learn more in this area.

    • Troy Angrignon

      Renewable yes, but much of it is using foodstock as feedstock and therefore causing food stock prices to go up so in the long run, food-stock sourced biodiesel is already a non-starter because we’d need 10 more planets worth of corn. It’s one very small piece of the energy puzzle and turns out to only be useful if we’re careful about sourcing from other stocks like palm oil plants and things that aren’t part of our food supply.

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