07 March, 2006

Hooray, I was wrong

As someone who has dissed ethanol as much as anyone, I must say I am pleased to hear from a reasonably respectable source that the stuff is no worse than gasoline, and is potentially much better. I apologize for missing this article when it first came out. I think I was in my burrow that week.

Up next: Let's figure out how to make ethanol without genetically modified monocultures irrigated with fossil water. (Says the guy who is 35 years old and has driven vehicles fewer than 20,000 miles in his life, pretending to be really happy that now he can get run down on his bicycle by people propelled by plant power. Yes, hooray. I guess it's better than biking what used to be a coast road through a couple feet of water.)


Holy mackerel. . .I'm really brain dead right now and trying to read this paper is giving me a migraine, but if I'm not mistaken the nut graf is actually in the second visual aid: a net greenhouse gas/MJ difference of 94 units for gasoline vs. 11  for this magic cellulosic ethanol. I can't quite tell if that's b/c this switchgrass is just really really good at sequestering carbon into a form that doesn't eventually give off methane AND really efficient at producing the sugar that will turn into ethanol. I'm not even going to try and dig through and see if it accounts for the two C02 molecules that you get for every ethanol molecule you ferment out of a sugar, but I'm assuming so.
So yes, monocultures are bad, chemical fertilizer is bad, and pumping aquifers dry is bad. Monocultures can be gotten around, and my understanding is that organic agriculture can actually be as efficient as regular agriculture wrt corn. The water issue, however, is worrisome. I wonder if grey water would be useful? That would make methane harvesting a lot easier . .if no one is actually eating this stuff, it might even be a lot more acceptable to fertilize/water it with human waste. . . 

Posted by Saheli

hee hee, maybe in a few generations our children will have removed the middle man and become bison

or maybe after we've restored the prairies the bison will come and slaughter us indiscriminately - human carcasses everywhere, rotting in cars and houses - bison chewing and stomping peacefully except for a few trying to keep a breeding population of people alive within the confines of disneyland 

Posted by david

idly in recent years i had wondered how such a large population of bison was supported by the great plains - now idly i speculate that the bison were taking advantage of their own personal high-capacity battery system - will they be involved in developing the industrial applications? 

Posted by david

holy crap - ourselves, the buffalo :

Bison consume a greater range of plants than do [cattle] ... They respond flexibly to forage quality and abundance. Moreover, bison ... can certainly achieve protein and energy intake equal or superior to those of cattle.

Bison ferment their cud more than cattle do, and perhaps for this reason, along with their superior nitrogen recycling, they have a higher digestive coefficient--that is, they get more out of the dry matter and fiber they eat. ... It intrigues scientists that bison can subsist on low-quality, high-fiber diets, whereas cattle require finer fare. In fact, bison digestions are rated between 3.7 percent and 6.1 percent more efficient than those of cattle. Nature has equipped them well for survival on the Plains.

Posted by david

hmmm ... so switchgrass and family store carbon like crazy because they "learned" to expect regular eatings by the 3-B's (taught in traditional switchgrass schools but alas not to the post-prairie generation): bison, bugs, and burns. "eat now, for tomorrow thou shalt have no leaves." the bison and bugs for their parts helped reduce fire risk and strengthen the speed of native growth's fire recovery. in the meantime there were fungi and other things in the soil that assisted the prairie plants with super-fast processing of stored and mined materials so as to more quickly make new leaves above ground when the need arose. this no doubt led to great rejoicing among bison and bug populations, whose celebratory pooping replenished the soil. what a fascinating place! i think i will go talk this over with the bison around the corner, perhaps hold up a lighter in honor of their roots. bison: children of the fire plains!! an exciting movie... 

Posted by david

I've driven 19,900 miles less than you, but I'll probably make it up in the next 7 years. 

Posted by echan

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