Bio-fuel Production to Double Demand on World Water Supply

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

What was that about no good deed going unpunished? As TTAC has opined previously, the current vogue for bio-fuels is set to ratify the Law of Unintended Consequences. Reporting from the World Water Week conference Sweden, researchers from the Stockholm International Water Institute forecast that biofuel production will double current agricultural demand for water. Cuba's Granma News Agency quotes Spokesman David Trouba's warning that the shift will take its toll on indigenous people. "Where will the water to grow the food needed to feed a growing population come from if more and more water is diverted to crops for bio-fuels production?" The problem of water for ethanol production is hardly confined to the third world; an average American plant uses about 2m gallons of water per day. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (amongst others) is studying the issue.

Robert Farago
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  • Engineer Engineer on Aug 15, 2007
    (e.g. do algae need clean water?). Pssst... we are not talking about algae. Other than that, a great idea. Let the ethanol plants use treated sewage. Afterall, ethanol is a great disinfectant. If they are out in the sticks, make them clean the water up and put it back to where they got it (river, well, lake, whatever). Ethanol from corn is one of the biggest taxpayer ripoffs ever. True. But try explaning that to the average politician.
  • Hal Hal on Aug 15, 2007
    Ethanol from corn is one of the biggest taxpayer ripoffs ever. True. But try explaning that to the average politician. I'm pretty sure the average politician knows this and also knows how to make sure he gets all the credit for the pork flowing his states way. The corn states are used to being coddled, if they weren't wasting federal money on this it would be something else.
  • Rpn453 Rpn453 on Aug 15, 2007

    dimitris, are you saying you actually think that we could produce biofuels without the energy from oil? Have you ever heard of subsidization?

  • Dimitris Dimitris on Aug 15, 2007

    rpn453: Subsidies are generally counter-productive, whether for corn ethanol, corn syrup or for security for medieval regimes' sales channels, so no argument from me there. Even if a biofuel requires petro-input (e.g. fertilizer), as long as it has a positive energy yield, it still displaces more fossil energy than it consumes. You seem to imply that biofuels somehow have to be energy-negative, and from what I've read here and elsewhere that doesn't even seem to be true for today's plain jane north american corn ethanol, never mind brazilian or cellulosic or algae etc. That's not to say that it's good and ready. Externalities, like water use, soil erosion and nutrient depletion, along good old cost, are essentially the things being worked on right now in biofuel R&D around the world. As to how strategically important even a "small" dent in fossil demand can be, here's a data point from stratfor:

    [...]the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis slashed a "mere" 10 percent off of global oil demand, and that sent prices down by 75 percent. BTW, a lot of that R&D is funded by DARPA, by the way. Wink wink. It may still be a long shot, but seeing Granma (Cuba would be in much more hurt were it not for Venezuelan fuel and petromoney) above bleating about biofuels harming indigenous populations seems very enlightening in this context, doesn't it? It also, to make this off-topic excursion a little more TTAC-relevant, makes Detroit's patriotic advertising subtext seem truly, painfully sad, given their gas-guzzler junkie status.