By on May 21, 2008

kudzu-car.jpgThe bio-fuel industry has an answer for critics who consider the whole food-for-fuel business a dangerous, back asswards proposition: second generation bio-fuels! Ethanol v2 proponents believe that a new range of non-food crops is the "answer" to kvetching. Only it isn't. The New York Times reports that "biologists and botanists are warning that they, too, may bring serious unintended consequences. Most of these newer crops are what scientists label invasive species — that is, weeds — that have an extraordinarily high potential to escape biofuel plantations, overrun adjacent farms and natural land, and create economic and ecological havoc in the process." If that's not enough to put you off the idea, how about some specifics? "The giant reed, previously used mostly in decorations and in making musical instruments — is a fast-growing, thirsty species that has drained wetlands and clogged drainage systems in other places where it has been planted. It is also highly flammable." Willy De Greef, incoming secretary general of EuropaBio (an industry group) says hakuna matata; "biofuel farmers would inevitably introduce new crops carefully because they would not want growth they could not control." Geoffrey Howard, an invasive species expert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is not impressed. “We’ve had 100 years of experience with introductions of these crops that turned out to be disastrous for environment, people, health.”

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22 Comments on ““Don’t let invasive biofuel crops attack your country”...”


  • avatar

    The energy equation is no better for 2nd generation than it is for first generation. The polemical situation – “we won’t be snatching food out of peoples’ mouths to run our cars” – does improve, though.

    And the ability to channel subsidies to farmers remains constant.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Great kudzu pic. Reminds me of the slopey woods behind my house.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    “we won’t be snatching food out of peoples’ mouths to run our cars” – does improve, though.

    Yeah. Now it will be “The invasive plants are invading the land on which the food was formerly grown”.

  • avatar
    Qwerty

    I cannot wait for the time regular Joes can receive a fat subsidy for letting their lawns go to pot with weeds. Agri-welfare should not only be for farmers. :-)

  • avatar
    Airhen

    Too bad crab grass (another fine invasive species that has had unintended consequences) can’t be used for bio-fuel, as my neighbors would be rich!

  • avatar
    N85523

    These types of “crops” would still be displacing former food crops like wheat. America shouldn’t have to import wheat.

  • avatar
    NeonCat93

    If kudzu turned out to be good for biofuel the United States might just achieve energy independence. Ooh, we could porkbarrel it so that tobacco farmers could grow it instead! Everybody (except smokers, but it is okay to hate on them, and taxpayers) wins!

  • avatar
    Raskolnikov

    So would everyone rather keep sending their $ to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela?

    I’d rather deal with some weeds and get my fuel from the farmer (corn, switchgrass, whatever) down the road than keep buying liquid Satan from people that want to kill us.

  • avatar

    Raskolikov: I’d rather deal with some weeds and get my fuel from the farmer (corn, switchgrass, whatever) down the road than keep buying liquid Satan from people that want to kill us. You should be a car salesman. That's what a BMW dealer called a “false option set.” In other words, by focusing on two options, where one is clearly preferable, you ignore and exclude all other options. “Do you want this brand new 3-Series or do you want to wait until your POS falls apart?” We could do a LOT of things to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Most if not all of which are preferable to this ridiculous, fundamentally misguided ethanol strategy.

  • avatar
    Raskolnikov

    I bet I could sell you that Le Car you’ve always wanted!

    True, we can do many things to reduce our dependence on foreign oil (hybrids, other alt fuel cars, higher mileage cars, walking, public transport, drilling in Alaska, bicycles, scooters, horses, telecommuting, etc..) Sorry, but I don’t have the time to comment on all these here. Don’t you agree a sensible biofuel strategy should be included? Ideally we’d prefer cellulosic ethanol, which requires much less input of fossil fuel to produce, but currently demand and infrastructure should be built up via the corn-based stuff. Corn is a less than stellar stock, but you have to start somewhere, right?

  • avatar
    Hank

    Why don’t we all just start sending out lawn clippings to the ethanol folk instead of filling 20-40% of our landfills with cut grass? It could be kind of like the WWII grease for bombs action.

  • avatar

    Raskolnikov :

    sensible biofuel strategy

    Oxymoron. (Not you, the phrase.)

  • avatar
    Raskolnikov

    It’s out there, and it will happen when the market decides to stop paying too much for our crack (oil) addiction. We just can’t count on the goverment to administer it for us.

    In a perfect world, I’d fill up my car with those plastic grocery bags I have clogging my pantry. But I’d settle for ethanol.

  • avatar
    Busbodger

    Gasoline is obsolete for alot of us only we haven’t noticed yet.

  • avatar
    joe_thousandaire

    Great article, I love when people nit-pick a possible solution to a problem to the point of near absurdity without offering any alternative solution themselves. Its also a plus whenever you can source an irreproachable paragon of objective journalism like the NY times.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    sensible biofuel strategy: Oxymoron.
    Close, RF, but not quite that bad.

    Workable biofuel strategy: WASTE->FUEL. As in trash to fuel. Two plants worth taking note of:
    1. Choren’s recently completed plant in Freiberg, Germany, that will convert forestry waste into green dielsel (not bio-BS).
    2. Range Fuels plant in GA, that will convert forestry waste into alcohols. Range Fuels likes to pretend it is a cellulosic ethanol plant, but there are some key differences, such as no fermentation or distillation, and the potential to produce butanol, rather than ethanol (which should only be used internally).

    Long term: once the bulk of our considerable waste is being converted into fuel, we will understand the process well enough to answer the question: Does any energy crop make sense? Stay tuned.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    http://www.changingworldtech.com/who/index.asp
    these folks are dong it here in US of A.

    Givng some more time things should be rolling.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Blowfish,
    I wouldn’t hold my breath. The facts are as follows:
    1. “We know how much this will cost. We can make oil for $15/bbl.” Or maybe not.
    2. The process only converts lipids (fats and oils) and some amino acids (from protein) into fuel. Cellulose? Nyet. Don’t take my word for it, read CWT’s own presentation.
    3. What is that fowl odor?
    4. The second plant has been at the planning stage since 2004. Can you guess what’s holding them up?

    Summary: Overpromised and underdelivered as often discussed on this site…

  • avatar
    Engineer

    Blowfish,
    I wouldn’t hold my breath. The facts are as follows:
    1. “We know how much this will cost. We can make oil for $15/bbl.” Or maybe not.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    2. The process only converts lipids (fats and oils) and some amino acids (from protein) into fuel. Cellulose? Nyet. Don’t take my word for it, read CWT’s own presentation.

  • avatar
    Engineer

    3. What is that fowl odor?

  • avatar
    Engineer

    4. The second plant has been at the planning stage since 2004. Can you guess what’s holding them up?

    Summary: Overpromised and underdelivered as often discussed on this site…

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