living: 30 years from now

Our pick of the best reads:


Jeff Rubin "Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller"


 

Greg Craven "What's the worst that could happen?"


Lester Brown "Plan B 3.0"


Shaun Chamberlin "Transition Timeline"


Andrew Simms & David Boyle "The New Economics"


Anthony Giddens "The Politics of Climate Change"


Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins "Local Food"


Clive Hamilton "Growth Fetish"


Richard Heinberg "Peak Everything"


Richard Heinberg "Oil Depletion Protocol"


"The Green Building Bible" vol 1


Mark Lynas "Six Degrees"


Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers Dennis Meadow "Limits to Growth"


Aubrey Meyer "Contract & Converge"


Alexis Rowell "Communities, Councils & A Low-Carbon Future"




 

From the Library Shelf:

Authors A thru D
Authors E thru H
Authors I thru L
Authors M thru Q
Authors R thru U
Authors V thru Z
Kids' Books

 

Proud Co-Founders of Transition Town High Wycombe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing Gas - Horror or Saviour?

Bio-Energy in Your Fuel Tank

Much of the hype & hysteria concerning bio-fuels has been driven by two opposing camps. In one corner we have the politicians who see votes in being able to suggest that everyone can continue their luxurious business-as-usual lifestyle by filling up their 4x4's with bio-fuel. In the other camp are the super-greens who cite the destruction of ancient forest in order to grow bio-fuels in the third-world. Well, what are we to make of this?

 

Biofuels will never replace our bountiful oil endowment due to the fundamental laws of physics. Photosynthesis is simply not efficient enough to capture THAT amount of energy in a short amount of time. However, there is some good news. We should not throw baby out with the bath water. Biofuels do have a future, even if the private car does not. Read on...

The Coming New Reality

Drive or Eat?Forget filling up your car with biofuel. Forget it forever. It ain't gonna happen. It took mother nature billions of years to store away our oil endowment through a process that started with simple photosynthesis. This captures the sun's energy as chemical energy. It is a chemical battery. Millions of years if pressure and heat underground has made the molecules line up in this chemical soup in all kinds of interesting ways. You'd be crazy to just burn it. Yet that is what we do. It all goes up in smoke. It would take 400 years of photosynthesis to capture all that energy that you release in just one year of your human activity. So there is no chance that plant matter is going to start compressing 400 years worth of photosynthesis into one.

 

It just doesn't stack up. The second thing to realise is that we are only able to make vast quantities of biofuel by burning vast quantities of fossil fuel. Some critics claim it even takes one barrel of oil to make one barrel of biofuels. This may not be quite true but the process is certainly low-yield and energy intensive. Even worse than that - it is going to compete for land with our need to grow food. What would you rather do? Drive your 4x4 and starve. Or eat? Rich westerners may get the luxury of a choice but poor southerners may not. They may face food poverty so that rich men can drive.

 

These options are unacceptable. However, in a low carbon-society, like the one proposed by "Zero Carbon Britain" the biofuel has a place. Principally it will be bio-diesel that drives farm machinery. It is claimed that Britain can easily produce enough biodiesel from rape oil to fuel its farm machinery. This comes to 13TWh (terra-watt-hours). Even more is expected from forestry and Miscanthus ("elephant-grass"). This should provide 335 TWh of energy that could be used in Combined Heat Power plants. 17 TWh will also be available from straw. By 2027 the total annual output will be 25 TWh. This could make agriculture self-sufficient from foreign oil-imports and, Grant Our Independence from Mineral Oil & its Implicationsessentially, carbon-neutral.

 

The point to remember about the 'Island Britain' idea proposed by Zero Carbon Britain, is that it proposes complete self sufficiency from oil imports. Hence there will be wide scale carbon rationing and no private motor cars driven by petrol or diesel. Everyone will use public transport or drive an electric car. This vision for Britain is revolutionary and probably quite shocking to many. Farming will be mostly organic and very little meat will be produced as it is too carbon-intensive. Instead land will be put to better use growing crops or forest. Such a future has us warm and well fed... But it is nothing like what we have today. Some may view this as a fantasy.

Land for Biofuel Crops

Running on EmptySimple calculations show that biofuels come nowhere near providing enough fuel for all the World's current transport demands. As mentioned, photosynthesis is simply not efficient enough for such an absurd undertaking (unless you have access to a time-machine). For a given area wind-turbines produce 20 times more energy whilst photovoltaic panels generate 100 times more. Biomass crops need a lot of land.

 

In the current period of 'Globalisation' rich westerners in the north tend to just export this problem to some poor third world country. There is little point clearing a forest to grow bio-fuels if that forest would have absorbed more CO2 if you left it as it was. Even if we don't export these problems abroad then our current model of agriculture suggests we apply liberal amounts of oil-made fertiliser to everything to make it grow bigger. When taken into account this means there is little or no net saving in fossil fuels.

 

However if we adopt organic farming practices there is a future for some biofuels near to where they will be used. Biofuel can be sourced from short-rotation forest, coppice and arable land. Rotation farming is a traditional way of using 'break' crops to maintain the health of the soil. Hence bio-diesel may be the by-product of a farming practice we will have to adopt anyway when the fossil oil runs out.

 

Food Grade OilWe mentioned Miscanthus earlier. What is that? Well it is perennial grass that can be under sown with clover to improve nitrogen fixation. Successive harvests of Miscanthus deplete soil nutrients very little but improve soil structure. In some areas hemp can be used instead. And Miscanthus is a fuel crop. In future it is thought that wood from a forest could be processed into a liquid or gaseous biofuel that displaces fossil fuels, leaving a char residue that can be returned to the soil, where it improves yields. This process also sequesters carbon at a rate much greater than that of traditional humus.

 

However good this sounds it only works within the framework of a radical overhaul of the way farming works in the North. Welcome to the real world.

Biofuel from Recycled Waste

So, is there any good news about Biofuels? Of course there is. It doesn't have to be made from virgin product at all. In 2003 the UK produced 100,000 tonnes of waste vegetable oil (think chip fat). Enough for 110 million litres of biodiesel. Add in all the other waste oil that ends up poured down the drain and you can double this number. The same again is available if we converted all those used car tyres in to biodiesel via the process of pyrolysis. There is also biogas from the anaerobic digestion of the 6.7 million tonnes of food we throw away every year in the UK. There is enough there for 209 million cubic metres of fuel. If the UK treated sewerage through anaerobic digesters it would produce a net annual methane supply of 123,750,000 cubic metres.

     Now all of this biofuel is only enough to supply about 3% of our current transport fuel consumption. However, the UK's Bus Fleet used 1.8 billion litres of diesel in 2006. So a full 20% of all buses could run on carbon-neutral sustainable bio-fuel.

Post-Carbon Girl

Resource

Milla Prefers EatingHeah! I am reading the Mobbs book on "Energy Beyond Oil". Well, in truth Daddy is reading it and telling me all about it. I can't believe that we can turn plants into oil! Isn't that great? Daddy says, no Mila, that isn't so great. There will never be enough plants for us all to drive. Eat them and pedal he says!
  • www.zerocarbonbritain.com - a web site by the Center for Alternative Technology that presents a plan to have Britain Carbon Neutral by 2027

Conclusion

Low Carbon Man

  • Eating must take priority. Driving is a luxury for a minority. Biomass should be ploughed into the soil.

  • The jury is still out. Some biofuel production may be possible for essential services and farming purposes.

Organise | Powerdown | Recycle | Substitute | Stay | Generate | Grow | Invest | Make | Community

References:
  • Much of this data has been culled from the ZeroCarbonBritain Report which you can download and read for free at www.zerocarbonbritain.com
  • "The Ecologist" Magazine October 2008 article "Excremental Changes"
  • "The Ecologist" Magazine February 2009 article "Biofuels 2.0"
 

 

 
   
   

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