mm499: Blast from the Past! No. 53 – Fuel without oil, or corn

September 19, 2008
© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

© Carbouval | Dreamstime.com

So it’s been pretty tough this week, as Faithful Reader might imagine, and we’re dipping our toes gingerly back into the blogging sea tonight.

Nevertheless, we’re all about doing the right thing here at Left-Handed Complement, and in that spirit we’re recycling some of yr (justifiably) humble svt‘s favorite electrons. And, with nearly 470 fresh daily posts in the past 16+ months, the recycling process has an exceptionally rich vein to mine.

I hereby stop apologizing for resuming our observance of the prime directive of blogging: Thou Shalt Blog Daily!

And, I’m guessing that most of you weren’t here nine months ago. As one of my favorite paper publications used to say as they flogged unsold back issues: “If you haven’t read it yet, it’s new for you!”

lhc76019043_thumb24_thumb2_thumb2_th[2]

Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last fall, originally posted November 13, 2007, and with a woman vice presidential candidate, more germane than ever, titled “mm193: Fuel without oil, or corn.”

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s been an ongoing theme (here, here and here) at Left-Handed Complement: the pandering, wrong-headed concentration on corn derived ethanol as the U.S. main alternative to Saudi (and Nigerian, Gulf of Mexico and North Slope) petroleum to fuel our transportation system.

This past weekend, the NYTimes featured a fascinating look at non-corn alternatives to powering our SUVs.

biomassethanol

For years, scientists have known that the building blocks in plant matter — not just corn kernels, but also corn stalks, wood chips, straw and even some household garbage — constituted an immense potential resource that could, in theory, help fill the gasoline tanks of America’s cars and trucks.

Mostly, they have focused on biology as a way to do it, tinkering with bacteria or fungi that could digest the plant material, known as biomass, and extract sugar that could be fermented into ethanol. But now, nipping at the heels of various companies using biological methods, is a new group of entrepreneurs, including Mr. Mandich, who favor chemistry.

The conceptual problem with ethanol from corn has always rested in the strong suspicion that the energy required to process corn to burn in one’s automobile exceeds the yield of energy so created.

Ethanol from corn is a political hot button, especially for all of the presidential campaigners prostrating themselves before Iowa’s farmers — isn’t it high time to divest this country from its inappropriate emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire in the primary process?

You don’t see Georgia influencing election trends, and yet:

In Georgia alone, enough waste wood is available to make two billion gallons of ethanol a year, Mr. Mandich said. If all that material could be captured and converted to fuel, it could replace about 1 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fuel Without the Fossil – New York Times

Obviously, there are some very bright people working hard at solutions, made increasingly economically attractive as the baseline of comparison to petroleum-based fuels persists in climbing inexorably toward $4/gallon.

And, corn-based or not, it looks like ethanol is going to be the end result of all of this chemical creativity, since it’s ethanol that has the Congressionally mandated tax credit.

MUDGE used to believe that the fuel cell guys had the answer, but what with the way the real world works, I can’t see corner hydrogen pumps popping up in many neighborhoods in my lifetime. So chemically derived ethanol will have to do.

Good to see U.S. innovation persists. Like the current IBM advertisements proclaim, it’s easy to say, and so very much more difficult to actually do.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm264: FDA: Cloned animals okay to join the food chain

January 24, 2008

MUDGE’S Musings

52329_2ce671303e

Robert Brooks/Creative Commons licensed.

This nanocorner of the ‘Sphere© considers itself a friend to science, and a natural enemy of those who deny it.

In that vein we have discussed the topic of genetically modified foodstuffs a number of times in this space.

Battle Over Genetically Modified Foods

mm236: G.M. wine
mm233: Corn in the news
mm223: Pigs, bees, fish
mm198: GM foods – wrongheaded opposition
mm109: Too much of a good thing

But an editorial writer in NYTimes this week tackles the issue of cloned animals in the food chain, science that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration blessed last week, and makes some scientific sense.

nytimes

Closing the Barn Door After the Cows Have Gotten Out

By VERLYN KLINKENBORG | Published: January 23, 2008

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for the eventual sale of meat and dairy products from cloned animals, saying, in effect, that consumers face no health risks from them. The next day, the Department of Agriculture asked farmers to keep their cloned animals off the market until consumers have time to get over their anticloning prejudice. That is one prejudice I plan to hold on to. I will not be eating cloned meat.

The reason has nothing to do with my personal health or safety. I think the clearest way to understand the problem with cloning is to consider a broader question: Who benefits from it? Proponents will say that the consumer does, because we will get higher quality, more consistent foods from cloned animals. But the real beneficiaries are the nation’s large meatpacking companies — the kind that would like it best if chickens grew in the shape of nuggets. Anyone who really cares about food — its different tastes, textures and delights — is more interested in diversity than uniformity.

A felicitous turn of phrase: … “meatpacking companies – the kind that would like it best if chickens grew in the shape of nuggets.” Wow! Wish I could write like that!

Species diversity is a good thing, and cloning is its enemy.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Closing the Barn Door After the Cows Have Gotten Out – New York Times

The writer’s point is that seeds can be banked (and hurrah! for those heirloom tomatoes that seem to be landing in farmers markets and upscale food stores), but we apparently haven’t decided that “animal seeds,” i.e, their genetic material, are possible to harvest and save.

Heirloom prime rib, anyone?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm233: Corn in the news — and not just in Iowa!

December 26, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

We’ve frequently commented (most recently here) on how often connections can be drawn from disparate news sources. It happened to us again today.

Read over breakfast this depressing story in the best magazine on the planet, The Economist:

economist

The beer crisis | Trouble brewing

Dec 19th 2007 | ST LOUIS | From The Economist print edition

A shortage of hops threatens Christmas

JUST as the festive season gets going, drinkers in America are finding their favourite beer suddenly more expensive or even—horrors!—not available at all. Hit by price increases and shortages, many breweries, particularly the small “craft brewers” and the even smaller microbreweries, are being forced to raise prices, make do with modified recipes or shut off the spigots altogether.

The humble hop, the plant that gives beer its distinctive flavour, is the main problem. Many farmers in the Pacific north-west, where America’s hop production is concentrated, have turned to more profitable lines—especially corn, which can be made into ethanol. The decrease in hop production, put at some 50% over the past decade, has sent prices through the roof. Brian Owens, the brewmaster of the O’Fallon Brewery near St Louis, Missouri, says that the variety he once bought for $3 a pound (0.45kg) now costs five times that. Many smaller breweries cannot find what they need at any price. Industry giants like Anheuser-Busch and Miller are better off, thanks to long-term contracts. But even Anheuser-Busch has been forced to raise prices for its six-packs.

A crisis of tragically epic proportions: beer unavailable, especially the increasingly popular craft or microbrews, or priced higher due to the newly high price of hops and barley.

Yr (justifiably) humble svt is somewhat cavalier about beer, as he doesn’t drink it very often (the carbs, don’t you know), but in tough times (and they seem to be inching toward tough in these parts) one takes solace where one can, and beer is the solace of choice for many. A shortage, or a significantly higher price, could wreak havoc with the social order.

And, what’s the cause of this potential unrest? Corn.

Corn is supplanting hops and barley for many farmers, since the government has made it increasingly attractive to grow corn for ethanol, totally wrongheaded though that is wrongheaded government! Go figure!

See some previous posts on the use of ethanol as fuel: starting here in the earliest days of this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, and here, here, here, here.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

The beer crisis | Trouble brewing | Economist.com

Ethanol, inefficient as it is as fuel, causing shortages and price increases of one of the major food groups (for many): beer. Talk about the law of unintended consequences…

Thus corn was on my mind when we encountered this article in the NYTimes today. The European Union is once again (still?) grappling with the high intensity issue of the advisability of growing genetically modified corn.

GM foods is a topic we’ve handled quite eloquently (MUDGE’s humility gene must have gotten in the way of an X-ray machine, sorry) in a previous post. But, news is news.

And the Times is quite thorough covering both points of view. Interestingly, there’s actual science supporting both, as opposed to the recent cases where science is called into question on this side of the water and those callers into question can hardly spell the word science (guess the word doesn’t appear in the King James edition) much less accept its findings.

nytimes

Both Sides Cite Science to Address Altered Corn

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL | Published: December 26, 2007

BRUSSELS — A proposal that Europe’s top environment official made last month, to ban the planting of a genetically modified corn strain, sets up a bitter war within the European Union, where politicians have done their best to dance around the issue.

The environmental commissioner, Stavros Dimas, said he had based his decision squarely on scientific studies suggesting that long-term uncertainties and risks remain in planting the so-called Bt corn. But when the full European Commission takes up the matter in the next couple of months, commissioners will have to decide what mix of science, politics and trade to apply. And they will face the ambiguous limits of science when it is applied to public policy.

Europe has embargoed seed and food products grown from genetically engineered plants for a decade; very convenient excuse for protectionist trade barriers. Now the World Trade Organization is pushing the EU for a change in policy. But the EU is pushing back, citing scientific studies counter to those presented in favor of GM food:

Ms. Hilbeck says that company-financed studies do not devote adequate attention to broad ripple effects that modified plants might cause, like changes to bird species or the effect of all farmers planting a single biotechnology crop. She said producers of modified organisms, like Syngenta and Monsanto, have rejected repeated requests to release seeds to researchers like herself to conduct independent studies on their effect on the environment.

The give and take on this is interesting.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Both Sides Cite Science to Address Altered Corn – New York Times

So it’s your scientists vs. my scientists, and because it’s science, there’s room for opposing theories. But the EU’s science has that slightly moldy odor of politics.

As mentioned in the post cited at the top, because of our employment at the time we were close to this debate 10 years ago in the U.S. That battle was hard fought, biotechnology vs. the Monarch butterfly (talk about a public relations nightmare for the suits!), and ultimately won in the U.S. by Big Ag, although as the Times makes clear, the Monarch’s well-being is still closely studied.

In the United States, where almost all crops are now genetically modified, the debate is largely closed.

“I’m not saying there are no more questions to pursue, but whether it’s good or bad to plant Bt corn — I think we’re beyond that,” said Richard L. Hellmich, a plant scientist with the Agriculture Department who is based at Iowa State University. He noted that hundreds of studies had been done and that Bt corn could help “feed the world.”

But the scientific equation may look different in Europe, with its increasing green consciousness and strong agricultural traditions.

And, if you let your farmers start to grow GM foods, it will be more difficult to rationalize the artificial protectionist barriers against other modified crops.

The hungry of the world (and there are so many!) can’t eat paper; unfortunately paper seems to be the chief crop of most of the world’s governments.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm223: Pigs, bees, fish — the dangerous ways we set our table

December 16, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The lavish supplies of cheap food we take for granted in the U.S. are far more costly than we’ve understood. Two stories in NYTimes this weekend provide disturbing evidence on several fronts. Michael Pollan authored the first, where he analyzed a pair of stories.

Staph infection and pig farms

The incursion of staph infection into the world at large from the general confinement of hospitals is distressing. In fact,

MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria … is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

One formerly understood that staph has mutated to develop resistance to antibiotics due to the overuse of antibiotics in the hospital setting, and thus is difficult to combat there. The victims of the resistant infections are generally the weak and elderly patients.

Now, there is disturbing evidence that the massive use of antibiotics in the ubiquitous ginormous feedlots might be causing staph to mutate outside hospitals.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that at least 70 percent of the antibiotics used in America are fed to animals living on factory farms. Raising vast numbers of pigs or chickens or cattle in close and filthy confinement simply would not be possible without the routine feeding of antibiotics to keep the animals from dying of infectious diseases. That the antibiotics speed up the animals’ growth also commends their use to industrial agriculture, but the crucial fact is that without these pharmaceuticals, meat production practiced on the scale and with the intensity we practice it could not be sustained for months, let alone decades.

This is all still guesswork on the part of researchers, as neither the FDA nor the livestock industry seems that interested in examining the issue.

Scientists have not established that any of the strains of MRSA presently killing Americans originated on factory farms. But given the rising public alarm about MRSA and the widespread use on these farms of precisely the class of antibiotics to which these microbes have acquired resistance, you would think our public-health authorities would be all over it. Apparently not. When, in August, the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition asked the Food and Drug Administration what the agency was doing about the problem of MRSA in livestock, the agency had little to say. Earlier this month, though, the F.D.A. indicated that it may begin a pilot screening program with the C.D.C.

The implication for the long-term costs of the inexpensive meat the world (except of course the 20% who are starving) takes for granted if a relationship is established between MRSA and CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation, a new acronym for MUDGE) is definitely disturbing. As is, of course, the fact that MRSA has overtaken AIDS as a killer in the U.S.

Bees, again

This space has taken some note over the past several months of the honeybee story (here, here and here): the bees have disappeared; do we really know why? Michael Pollan has some significant observations, and relates the issues with the bees to that of the pigs.

The second story is about honeybees, which have endured their own mysterious epidemic this past year. Colony Collapse Disorder was first identified in 2006, when a Pennsylvanian beekeeper noticed that his bees were disappearing — going out on foraging expeditions in the morning never to return. Within months, beekeepers in 24 states were reporting losses of between 20 percent and 80 percent of their bees, in some cases virtually overnight. Entomologists have yet to identify the culprit, but suspects include a virus, agricultural pesticides and a parasitic mite. (Media reports that genetically modified crops or cellphone towers might be responsible have been discounted.) But whatever turns out to be the immediate cause of colony collapse, many entomologists believe some such disaster was waiting to happen: the lifestyle of the modern honeybee leaves the insects so stressed out and their immune systems so compromised that, much like livestock on factory farms, they’ve become vulnerable to whatever new infectious agent happens to come along.

Due to the massive scale of agriculture in California, source of so much of the food grown in this country, the state has, by necessity, become an importer of itinerant bees.

In 2005 the demand for honeybees in California had so far outstripped supply that the U.S.D.A. approved the importation of bees from Australia. These bees get off a 747 at SFO and travel by truck to the Central Valley, where they get to work pollinating almond flowers — and mingling with bees arriving from every corner of America. As one beekeeper put it to Singeli Agnew in The San Francisco Chronicle, California’s almond orchards have become “one big brothel” — a place where each February bees swap microbes and parasites from all over the country and the world before returning home bearing whatever pathogens they may have picked up. Add to this their routine exposure to agricultural pesticides and you have a bee population ripe for an epidemic national in scope.

So, pigs and bees have become industrialized. The law of unintended consequences has gone to work, also.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Pollan – Agriculture – Disease Resistant Staph – Concentrated Animal Feed Operations – Sustainability – New York Times

a disturbing Chinese fish story

The final element of today’s food fright is also a Times story.

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters

By DAVID BARBOZA

FUQING, China — Here in southern China, beneath the looming mountains of Fujian Province, lie dozens of enormous ponds filled with murky brown water and teeming with eels, shrimp and tilapia, much of it destined for markets in Japan and the West.

Fuqing is one of the centers of a booming industry that over two decades has transformed this country into the biggest producer and exporter of seafood in the world, and the fastest-growing supplier to the United States.

But that growth is threatened by the two most glaring environmental weaknesses in China: acute water shortages and water supplies contaminated by sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff that includes pesticides. The fish farms, in turn, are discharging wastewater that further pollutes the water supply.

“Our waters here are filthy,” said Ye Chao, an eel and shrimp farmer who has 20 giant ponds in western Fuqing. “There are simply too many aquaculture farms in this area. They’re all discharging water here, fouling up other farms.”

Farmers have coped with the toxic waters by mixing illegal veterinary drugs and pesticides into fish feed, which helps keep their stocks alive yet leaves poisonous and carcinogenic residues in seafood, posing health threats to consumers.

Okay, let me count: eels, shrimp, tilapia, sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff including pesticides, veterinary drugs and pesticides. The food we want seems swamped by all the stuff we want no part of, but we don’t get to choose. After all,

Environmental problems plaguing seafood would appear to be a bad omen for the industry. But with fish stocks in the oceans steadily declining and global demand for seafood soaring, farmed seafood, or aquaculture, is the future. And no country does more of it than China, which produced about 115 billion pounds of seafood last year.

China produces about 70 percent of the farmed fish in the world, harvested at thousands of giant factory-style farms that extend along the entire eastern seaboard of the country. Farmers mass-produce seafood just offshore, but mostly on land, and in lakes, ponds, rivers and reservoirs, or in huge rectangular fish ponds dug into the earth.

The U.S. imports 80% of its fish; the Chinese produces 70% of the world’s supply of farmed fish. China is huge, ambitious, and often very primitive in its safety surveillance. This is an ugly combination.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

In China, Farming Fish in Toxic Waters – New York Times

Let’s review:

  1. Some scientists are convinced that pig and other livestock agriculture can kill us, because the overuse of antibiotics in CAFO settings could cause the mutation of antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus bacteria.
  2. Honeybees have been worked so hard in the service of agribusiness that some scientists believe that the stress made them less resistant to bee-killing viruses and parasites.
  3. Chinese aquaculture (a wetter form of agribusiness) is producing massive quantities — the overwhelming majority of the globe’s farmed product — of fish contaminated by sewage, industrial waste, agricultural runoff and veterinary drugs and pesticides.

To paraphrase Will Rogers, it’s not what you pay for food, but what it costs you that counts. I don’t think that we can afford inexpensive food.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm198: GM foods — Wrongheaded opposition is starving the developing world

November 18, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Prospect magazine of the UK has a compelling piece, from the European viewpoint on genetically modified food and its wrongheaded opposition.

prospectuk

The real GM food scandal

by Dick Taverne

GM foods are safe, healthy and essential if we ever want to achieve decent living standards for the world’s growing population. Misplaced moralising about them in the west is costing millions of lives in poor countries

Dick Taverne is the author of The March of Unreason: Science, Democracy and the New Fundamentalism (OUP)

Seven years ago, Time magazine featured the Swiss biologist Ingo Potrykus on its cover. As the principal creator of genetically modified rice—or “golden rice”—he was hailed as potentially one of mankind’s great benefactors. Golden rice was to be the start of a new green revolution to improve the lives of millions of the poorest people in the world. It would help remedy vitamin A deficiency, the cause of 1-2m deaths a year, and could save up to 500,000 children a year from going blind. It was the flagship of plant biotechnology. No other scientific development in agriculture in recent times held out greater promise.

Seven years later, the most optimistic forecast is that it will take another five or six years before golden rice is grown commercially. The realisation of Potrykus’s dream keeps receding. The promised benefits from other GM crops that should reduce hunger and disease have been equally elusive. GM crops should now be growing in areas where no crops can grow: drought-resistant crops in arid soil and salt-resistant crops in soil of high salinity. Plant-based oral vaccines should now be saving millions of deaths from diarrhoea and hepatitis B; they can be ingested in orange juice, bananas or tomatoes, avoiding the need for injection and for trained staff to administer them and refrigeration to store them.

Your correspondent has long been more aware of this complex issue than the average blogger on the street. Some years ago, MUDGE logged a five-year stint at a science-based organization whose parent was one of the foremost corporate proponents of this world-changing technology. Indeed, I probably would be there still, had not the forces of creative destruction, i.e., capitalism, broken up that good old gang of mine through “merger” and acquisition.

Proximity to the technology, and a modicum of intellectual curiosity resulted in slightly more than superficial awareness of the issue and its controversies. And the controversy has been noisy enough to make one believe that distribution of such technology has been suppressed. But,

Seldom has public perception been more out of line with the facts. The public in Britain and Europe seems unaware of the astonishing success of GM crops in the rest of the world. No new agricultural technology in recent times has spread faster and more widely. Only a decade after their commercial introduction, GM crops are now cultivated in 22 countries on over 100m hectares (an area more than four times the size of Britain) by over 10m farmers, of whom 9m are resource-poor farmers in developing countries, mainly India and China. Most of these small-scale farmers grow pest-resistant GM cotton. In India alone, production tripled last year to over 3.6m hectares. This cotton benefits farmers because it reduces the need for insecticides, thereby increasing their income and also improving their health. It is true that the promised development of staple GM food crops for the developing world has been delayed, but this is not because of technical flaws. It is principally because GM crops, unlike conventional crops, must overcome costly, time-consuming and unnecessary regulatory obstacles before they can be licensed.

And the demonizing of GM technology has no foundation in science.

The fact is that there is not a shred of any evidence of risk to human health from GM crops. Every academy of science, representing the views of the world’s leading experts—the Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian, French and American academies as well as the Royal Society, which has published four separate reports on the issue—has confirmed this. Independent inquiries have found that the risk from GM crops is no greater than that from conventionally grown crops that do not have to undergo such testing. In 2001, the research directorate of the EU commission released a summary of 81 scientific studies financed by the EU itself—not by private industry—conducted over a 15-year period, to determine whether GM products were unsafe or insufficiently tested: none found evidence of harm to humans or to the environment.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

‘The real GM food scandal’, Prospect Magazine issue 140 November 2007 – Printer Friendly Article

In the analysis considered here, the thesis is proposed that the large agribusinesses planted the seeds, as it were, of their own difficulties promoting this technology due to their own public-relations (rather than science) based caution.

And MUDGE remembers distinctly the emotional and distracting case of the supposed endangerment of monarch butterflies due to GM corn.

And what has always grabbed this non-scientist observer is that, throughout the history of agriculture (which encompasses the development of modern humankind) farmers have cross-bred and otherwise genetically modified their crops. What modern technology offers the process is predictability and repeatability.

So, as we hope you’ve taken the trouble to read to the end, the author expresses some hope that people are finally coming to their senses regarding the issue of GM crops.

There can be little doubt that GM crops will be accepted worldwide in time, even in Europe. But in delaying cultivation, the anti-GM lobbies have exacted a heavy price. Their opposition has undermined agrobusiness in Europe and has driven abroad much research into plant biotechnology—an area in which Britain formerly excelled. Over-regulation may well cause the costs of the technology to remain higher than they need be. Above all, delay has caused the needless loss of millions of lives in the developing world. These lobbies and their friends in the organic movement have much to answer for.

So, once again, seemingly well-informed people are proven to be misinformed. Hardly shocking anymore, but very, very disturbing.

Africans and others in the developing world are starving, people! GM crops can be engineered to use less pesticide, less fertilizer, less water (the last great resource battleground), to get more, and better, food into the empty stomachs of the world.

Wake up and pay attention, you enemies of science!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm194: Friedman: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

November 14, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s apparently petroleum week here at L-HC. The previous post tackled the subject of researchers innovating to produce practical biomass (as opposed to the wrong-headed impractical but politically potent corn) ethanol as a petroleum substitute. Now, a look at U.S. oil policy itself.

It’s just downright amazing how much smarter Thomas L. Friedman has become since the NYTimes no longer charges to read him on line. 😉

Today, he tells some truths, and challenges the presidential candidates to do the same, regarding our treasonable dependence on OPEC petroleum.

thomaslfriedman

In the wake of 9/11, some of us pleaded for a “patriot tax” on gasoline of $1 or more a gallon to diminish the transfers of wealth we were making to the very countries who were indirectly financing the ideologies of intolerance that were killing Americans and in order to spur innovation in energy efficiency by U.S. manufacturers.

But no, George Bush and Dick Cheney had a better idea. And the Democrats went along for the ride. They were all going to let the market work and not let our government shape that market — like OPEC does.

So, we all understand by now why George III and his evil puppeteer took the horrible course they’ve chosen, and taken us along for this devastating six-year and counting ride.

But Friedman has a legitimate point: why have the “loyal opposition” not pushed for a tax at the pump?

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda – New York Times

One has to love the proposed debate Friedman sketches for us.

His tax finances people who hate us. Mine would offset some of our payroll taxes, pay down our deficit, strengthen our dollar, stimulate energy efficiency and shore up Social Security. It’s called win-win-win-win-win for America. My opponent’s strategy is sit back, let the market work and watch America lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.” If you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics.

And one has to admit that none of the serious candidates (i.e., candidates one can take seriously — sorry Dennis!) possess the steel to conduct such a debate. Not in Iowa, where present policy is just fine by the corn farmers. Not in New Hampshire where taxes are probably synonymous with Satan.

President Bush squandered a historic opportunity to put America on a radically different energy course after 9/11. But considering how few Democrats or Republicans are ready to tell the people the truth on this issue, maybe we have the president we deserve. I refuse to believe that, but I’m starting to doubt myself.

The war, $100/barrel oil — it’s all so wrong. January 20, 2009 can’t come soon enough, but if our petroleum policy stays hostage to the oil guys, the domestic automobile manufacturers and the corn farmers, all of whom are perfectly satisfied with the status quo, we’ll remain in desperate straits.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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mm193: Fuel without oil, or corn

November 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s been an ongoing theme (here, here and here) at Left-Handed Complement: the pandering, wrong-headed concentration on corn derived ethanol as the U.S. main alternative to Saudi (and Nigerian, Gulf of Mexico and North Slope) petroleum to fuel our transportation system.

This past weekend, the NYTimes featured a fascinating look at non-corn alternatives to powering our SUVs.

biomassethanol

For years, scientists have known that the building blocks in plant matter — not just corn kernels, but also corn stalks, wood chips, straw and even some household garbage — constituted an immense potential resource that could, in theory, help fill the gasoline tanks of America’s cars and trucks.

Mostly, they have focused on biology as a way to do it, tinkering with bacteria or fungi that could digest the plant material, known as biomass, and extract sugar that could be fermented into ethanol. But now, nipping at the heels of various companies using biological methods, is a new group of entrepreneurs, including Mr. Mandich, who favor chemistry.

The conceptual problem with ethanol from corn has always rested in the strong suspicion that the energy required to process corn to burn in one’s automobile exceeds the yield of energy so created.

Ethanol from corn is a political hot button, especially for all of the presidential campaigners prostrating themselves before Iowa’s farmers — isn’t it high time to divest this country from its inappropriate emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire in the primary process?

You don’t see Georgia influencing election trends, and yet:

In Georgia alone, enough waste wood is available to make two billion gallons of ethanol a year, Mr. Mandich said. If all that material could be captured and converted to fuel, it could replace about 1 percent of the nation’s gasoline consumption.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Fuel Without the Fossil – New York Times

Obviously, there are some very bright people working hard at solutions, made increasingly economically attractive as the baseline of comparison to petroleum-based fuels persists in climbing inexorably toward $4/gallon.

And, corn-based or not, it looks like ethanol is going to be the end result of all of this chemical creativity, since it’s ethanol that has the Congressionally mandated tax credit.

MUDGE used to believe that the fuel cell guys had the answer, but what with the way the real world works, I can’t see corner hydrogen pumps popping up in many neighborhoods in my lifetime. So chemically derived ethanol will have to do.

Good to see U.S. innovation persists. Like the current IBM advertisements proclaim, it’s easy to say, and so very much more difficult to actually do.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE