Will mass use of biodiesel and ethanol fuel kill more people?

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by burritos, Jan 2, 2008.

  1. burritos

    burritos Senior Member

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    The logic being that using it will drive up food prices across the world leading to more starvation.
     
  2. galaxee

    galaxee mostly benevolent

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    a lot of biodiesel is made using processed used fryer oil. i'm not a huge fan of ethanol... i think it will drive prices up. so much stuff has corn syrup of some kind in it...
     
  3. sulman

    sulman Introspectator

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    No doubt our processed food is loaded with high fructose corn syrup. It is in there because it is cheap. But, is that a good thing?
     
  4. Rae Vynn

    Rae Vynn Artist In Residence

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    What I believe is currently the largest biodiesel plant in the US recently went online near us Imperium Renewables
    They are using virgin oils only.
    Currently, they are using domestic feed stock oils (that's soy and corn from within the USA), but in talking with the general manager, I do know that they have no real aversion to using palm oil from plantations that are converted from rainforest (yes, slash and burn, plant palms, sell the oil to make biodiesel... how's THAT for protecting the environment? oh, sorry... I'm on my soapbox again) should the prices be such that they can maximize their bottom line.
     
  5. AussieOwner

    AussieOwner Active Member

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    Last November I was watching a show on TV which was looking at this whole corn for bio-fuel question. For those interested (be warned - it is a long read of the trans-script from the program) http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2006/s2085796.htm

    One of the key statements made, however, was one from a Lester Brown from an organisation called Earth Policy Institute who stated:

    "The grain it requires to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year. And so what we're beginning to see now at the global level, for the first time ever, is direct competition between the 860 million people who own automobiles and want to maintain their mobility competing for grain with the two billion poorest people in the world who are simply trying to survive.".

    I saw no counter argument. It certainly made me start to review my feeling on bio-fuel. I don't care whether it has been through a cooking cycle per Galaxee's point or not - it is using a food source to keep us mobile, and thus taking away from feeding people.

    Now if we could create a fuel from the parts of the plant that are not food, such as the stalks and leaves only, then we possibly can have the best of both worlds - a fuel and food.
     
  6. patsparks

    patsparks An Aussie perspective

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    I disagree.
    From my position here I use E10 made from sugar cane not corn. Most of what is used is a waste product from sugar production.
    As far as corn ethanol goes if the corn wasn't being used to make ethanol it would be used to feed animals to fatten up america. If the corn production wasn't subsidised some farmers would get out of corn production but their farms would still be used as farms, producing for a larger concern who would buy out the little guy. There are people in the world who are starving, they cant afford food. Just because ethanol isn't being made from corn any more won't result in one extra ear of corn making it to those starving people from the USA because they can't afford to buy it, so no one is selling to them/ If the price of corn should fall to a few dollars a ton that just makes in more attractive as stock feed.
    The Riverland of South Australia is a citrus growing area, when they can't sell their oranges they dump the surplus in landfill, they don't send free oranges to Ethiopia.

    Australian biodiesel is made from canola oil, same argument applies as to corn ethanol.

    There is enough food in this world it's just we (you and me) have too much and people in other countrries don't get enough.
     
  7. burritos

    burritos Senior Member

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    Yes, there's enough food in the world to feed the people. That's not in question. But if the demand on biofuels increases, will that increase the price of certain foods(such as corn) that will price more poor people out of the food supply? Sure there are some biofuels that are waste products and some biofuels lines solely dedicated to non food use. But some are food related. From a basic economic stand point, I would think that intuitively increased demand would increase prices.
     
  8. sulman

    sulman Introspectator

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    Perhaps it will price high fructose corn syrup and excessive beef out of the food supply as well. I'm not sure we are using those to feed the world right now.
     
  9. patsparks

    patsparks An Aussie perspective

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    I have a feeling we are talking different "poor"
    Some refer to poor as living week to week in a first world country on minimum wage and others are thinking picking rice out of the dry sand a grain at a time so you don't starve to death poor. When I say poor I'm not reffering to anyone in Australia, NZ, USA, Canada, and Europe.
     
  10. nerfer

    nerfer A young senior member

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    Corn doesn't feed many poor people (although it is driving up corn flour, used in a lot of central American dishes). Corn is used in the U.S. primarily for corn syrup in processed foods and to feed cows and pigs. So the 25 gallons of ethanol vs. feeding a starving person for a year doesn't really hold true (it takes a lot of feed to produce a pound of meat). But high corn prices does reduce the amount of land planted in wheat and soybeans, which is more commonly sold overseas. And corn is one of the most intensive users of petroleum - weeding/herbiciding, fertilizing, etc.

    The better corn ethanol plants sell their leftover plant matter (they have a name for it, but I forget it) to cattle feedlots and there's at least one located next to a feedlot so they can use methane from the manure as a power source for producing the ethanol.

    But the only really good thing about America's push for ethanol is that we are now really researching cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from waste products - corn stover (stalks, etc.), switchgrass, probably even lawn clippings. Brazil and apparently Australia use sugar cane to make ethanol, which is much more efficient than the U.S. model (Nat'l Geographic had a good article on this a few months ago), but cellulosic ethanol is really the way of the future.
     
  11. sulman

    sulman Introspectator

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    Gluten feed, IIRC.
     
  12. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    Nerfer, they're called distiller's grains and they're high in protein. These distiller grains can be processed one more time to produce a small amount of bio diesel and this is being done in a few places. It only makes sense. The ethanol producers love to talk up distiller grains, but the fact is that the product is very rich in protein but missing fat and starches that the animals seem to prefer. They can only eat so much of the stuff without having problems. So it's not as rosy as you might think.

    Using food crops (particularly corn) is not a long term solution because it just isn't all that scalable. These things can only really be seen as a bridge to other/better processes and I think some good is coming out of it. Particularly on the process efficiency side of the house. You touched on this with the manure to methane. There are several other techniques that are being employed to lower the fuel input costs associated with ethanol production. I posted an interesting article on the subject here.

    Vehicle efficiency is really the key to the biofuel issue. Putting E85 into H2s and Yukons is nothing short of, to be crass, retarded. FFVs are a good idea and can be a part of a short term solution to mitigating our oil dependency issues, but it has to be done well. I'm not convinced that that will happen, given the power of the agricultural lobby in this country.

    The long term goal should be the electrification of the transportation sector, but we'll need liquid fuels for quite sometime, esp for aviation.
     
  13. Darwood

    Darwood Senior Member

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    To say fueling our cars with ethanol will kill the world's poor is a little narrow in view. Look at the worldwide population curve and overlay it with the worldwide oil production curve. It is shocking. Oil has literally fueled a population explosion accross the world. As oil production goes down the slope after peak, the population peak MUST occur sometime after. Wether it's due to food vs. fuel, war, disease, or simply the inability to ship excess grains all over the globe due to the unavailability of fuel for transport is immaterial. It's going to happen one way or another. growing fuel is mankind grasping at straws as we look down the slope. It will help the US have a softer landing, but make the landing harder for the third world.
     
  14. F8L

    F8L Protecting Habitat & AG Lands

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    Aye, reaching carrying capacity sucks. It sucks even more when you artificially overshoot the maximum capacity and destroy the land and thus lower the capacity limit even further. I hope we can somehow avoid this tragic rule of nature.
     
  15. Darwood

    Darwood Senior Member

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    Careful what you wish for...

    Humankind can probably keep the artificial carrying capacity high for quite a while longer, but it involves continued use of non-renewable energy, only delays it to a later time, and more importantly...will mean the end of the "quality of living" that half the world has come to know as normal. I'm not sure a return to very limited mobility, sharecropping, and a diet of cannned beans and rice are something petrohominids can re-adapt to. I think violence, war, and/or disease will quicken the population drop-off as opposed to stretching it out.
     
  16. burritos

    burritos Senior Member

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    Considering that unless you have an infrastructure based on ethanol(like Brazil), you're probably just using oil to create the ethanol anyways. In other words, using ethanol is akin to moving the furniture around on the deck of the Titanic(renamed peak oil) but feeling good about it.

    However, while moving the furniture around are we inadvertently rolling over and maiming others? If so, should we know better?
     
  17. john1701a

    john1701a Prius Guru

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    It's beyond that too. Quality of life can be lowered. Use of biodiesel results in NOx emissions higher than regular diesel, which are high in the first place. The air we breath is a concern on top of all those other problems mentioned.

    Solutions will require multi-technology efforts... something many simply are not in a position to deal with.
    .
     
  18. Darwood

    Darwood Senior Member

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    "Considering that unless you have an infrastructure based on ethanol(like Brazil), you're probably just using oil to create the ethanol anyways."

    Are you suggesting that farming can only be done with oil?
    Farmers have zero ability to come up with new ways to farm?
    Tractors can't run on biodiesel, WVO, electricity, etc?

    Farmers have never in history been faced with oil shortages. They will be forced to adapt. Maybe we farm by conveyor belt. Maybe we run farm equipment on circular tracks, hooked up to the grid or with solar panels in the middle of the track.

    I'm not defending wide spread ethanol, either. It's just one more piece of the puzzle of replacing dwindling petroleum. But to condemn it because the oil wasting methods of yesterday are used as the benchmark of "how much oil is used to make ethanol" is folly. Clearly, farmers can improve in efficiency by using better crops, new methods, etc. They have spent every year up till now focused on crop yields as the only thing that mattered, and will soon face a new goal: lowering the energy input cost per bushel/acre/barrel. How much ethanol can we make WITHOUT oil is undetermined, but clearly above zero and below the amounts we need to replace petroleum. The important thing is that the we are setting up the infrastructure to produce energy alternatives NOW, when we still have oil to do so. The next goal that no one talks about is to redesign farm management to reduce/eliminate the massive oil imputs we use.
     
  19. darelldd

    darelldd Prius is our Gas Guzzler

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    The best biofuel we've got is electricity from the sun and wind. And what we use for making "fuel" in this case is never being diverted from food. In fact, the land can be shared completely with the two "crops." But now we're talking about "alt" biofuel! :)
     
  20. tripp

    tripp Which it's a 'ybrid, ain't it?

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    My sentiments exactly, m8. The energy balance of corn ethanol can easily be increased and numerous new installations have shown how it can be done. Granted, the advances that we're seeing now are in the drying/distillation phase of production, but those two processes consume a lot of the fossil fuel energy that is required for ethanol production. Big bang for the buck there, and with rising energy costs a bit of a no-brainer. Obviously the other two parts of the production process that consume fossil fuels are the fertilizer production and the crop harvesting/planting. These processes are probably not very optimized for efficiency and they don't HAVE to consume fossil fuels. I do know that farmers use GPS and various other tools to figure out how to apply fertilizer, but I wonder how efficient the application process is. There's a lot of ag runoff that ends up in the Mississippi. I'll bet that through better application processes that amount could be reduced. That in turn would suggest that farmers would need to apply less fertilizer, which would mean that a larger percentage of the fertilizer could come from non-fossil sources.
     
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