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Author Topic: Food vs Fuel?  (Read 45392 times)
Ivan
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« on: March 27, 2008, 12:42:26 AM »

Here's one argument I always seem to be on the losing side of:

Most people I speak to, tell me that we should not use land to grow biofuels (apparently it diverts it away from food production). Yes, I can see this is the case in some respects (eg American mid west growing grain for ethanol production), but in other cases I believe there is a good argument for growing fuel (eg in countries where there is a lot of unfarmed land, or set aside subsidies etc). Anyway, this thread is not to debate these issues.

The argument against diverting land to grow fuel is: that the world is overpopulated (I think most will agree on that), there are a lot of starving people in the world (I think we ALL agree with that) and that increased biofuel production means lower food production (there is some debate about the extent of this) and that lower food production means higher food prices (law of supply and demand) and that poorer people will not be able to afford food.

Assuming we go along with the 'don't grow fuel' argument, what I want to know, is this: If we want to continue to sustain current world populations without starvation, what do we do when fossil fuels run out? ie when we don't have any fuel to run tractors, combine harvesters, don't have the fossil fuels to produce fertilisers, pesticides etc which enable the very high production levels that we currently enjoy. If we move to organic farming, production levels will have to drop dramatically. If we move to carbon-neutral farming (eg with horses, oxes, and human-power) we will have much lower production levels. OK, so we can rely on nuclear fuel for the next fifty years or so, and convert the electricity into hydrogen or perhaps methane, and use that to run tractors - that gives us about 50years breathing space, but then the same question.

My suggestion is that we should put aside some land for fuel production, and use this in a more energy-efficient farming process. Yes, overall yields will be lower, but it will be sustainable.

For those who advocate that land should not be given over to biofuel production - what's the sustainable alternative?
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billi
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« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2008, 01:21:51 AM »

Hello

i remember an advert from Bayer (did produce fertilizer , perhaps or for sure still does) 

the advert is about 25-30 years old .

they promoted artificial fertilizer  to safe the people and fight against hunger ....

i think 30 years later  a great success ..... money wise ....   Embarrassed

in the moment its an up and down story about biofuels  and i am sure the harvesting and utilisation of those could be easier  without the profit thinking

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« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2008, 06:20:05 AM »

Ivan

I wonder if there is enough land in the world to grow all the food and fuel we need with zero use of fossil fuels.  There is a lot of land that is "marginal" and will grow stuff with the use of fertilizers.  At the moment those fertilizers are produced with fossil fuels.

As an example.  I have 43 acres.  If I convert the bit I'm not using for my veg gardens to biomass production (planting trees - which I am) then I can use the wood as fuel.  My land is poor.  Even the trees don't do well without some help.  If I cut the wood and sell it to a third party then the ash is lost, such micro-nutrients as I have in the soil are gone and future crops are worse and worse.  If I keep the wood for myself then I could possibly produce enough fuel and keep the nutrient loop closed.

What is true for me on a local level is even more so on an intercontinental one.  To my mind this is the central problem we as an essentially urban, industrialised species have never faced.


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« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2008, 08:48:51 AM »

Concentration and intensification of agriculture have led to a situation where the average use of nitrogenous fertilisers reaches 34 tonnes per square mile in Germany and the United Kingdom compared to 7,6 tonnes in the United States of America(2), although the use of nitrogen fertilisers significantly declined between 1988 and 1992 (see Table 1).

I wonder if  the  industrial fertilizer added to the global system  over the last decades not behaving like the co2 story? 


So that we have too much nutricion in the atmosphere  Huh
i wounder how much nutricion fixing plants could help with the idea of producing fuel ?

just a thought

billi

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« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2008, 10:45:49 AM »

it is going to be a very difficult balance to strike - "climate change" is now being recognised, but amongst the other horsemen of our apocalypse is the threat of killing the seas stone dead - as these are mankind's "lungs", it's just as important! The oceans are acidifying at a frightening rate, largely down to runoff of artificial fertilisers and industrial effluence - from that point of view, we shouldn't be using any artificial fertilisers at all Undecided
Unfortunately, we have a new horseman just revving up - GM...........the companies that control this awful stuff are gearing up for a hefty onslaught to flog it to us as the "answer" to all our problems - to me they represent a far more dangerous threat than nuclear power, and that's bad enough! Lips Sealed
Personally, I'd like to see money poured into research in the organic field -  we can't continue using the "artificials", and GM is just downright dangerous (and dependent on the artificials). Good old fashioned plant breeding can accomplish one heck of a lot - at the moment we are locked into a "chemicals with everything" attitude through the likes of Defra - independent research, well away from the agrochemical companies is what's needed Wink
I do think there's a future in using "waste" as fuel, again, another area that has been long-neglected - and getting priorities right will play a big part - fuel should be available to produce food, but NOT for pleasure flying, or transporting overweight kids to school............ Roll Eyes
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« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2008, 10:51:01 AM »

Organic farming works quite well, particularly for grassland but the production of crops, particularly grain is more difficult.   Rotation of land and selection of seed varieties would help but extra land would be needed to maintain production without any oil based fertilisers.    Planting of trees in suitable places on farms would help production by giving shelter,  they also raise winter temperatures and lower summer temperatures.   In Ireland there is a lot of cutaway bog which is not farmed,  mainly for economic reasons. Farm produce  prices are too low to justify using  marginal land and subsidies only apply to existing farm land.   Probably the biggest potential for increased production is in tropical  areas and in the oceans but the world population increase is the biggest long term worry and  it is becomingly increasingly  important to  help developing countries in a much more comprehensive way.  Population increase only moderates when a country becomes economically secure.    World population increase has slowed from about 2% per annum  in the 1960s to 1% but  the growth rate will need to reduce to almost zero.
     
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population
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« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2008, 11:23:41 AM »

Does anyone have any particular hints and tips for planting trees? I've got 1500 willow slips to plant next week as a shelter belt and for fuel. Also, some other bare rooted mixed deciduous trees  Huh Get someone else to do it would probably be the best idea  Cheesy

We are going to try using seaweed as an organic fertiliser by mixing it in the soil and also leaving it in water and extracting the resulting liquid. Also, could go in a biodigester  Huh

I read somewhere that you can get about 1000 litres of oil from one hectare of rape seed but I suppose that would be under ideal conditions, using GM seed and inorganic fertilisers  Angry
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Ivan
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« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2008, 12:28:40 PM »

Nutrients
Yes, nutrient cycles are just as important as CO2. Nitrogen is incredibly difficult to fix from the air, so anything that is burnt to produce nitrous oxides (presumably any nitrogen containing biomass), will give rise to long latency times in the atmosphere. As far as I know, this won't make much difference to global warming, but as only a few plants 'fix' nitrogen into the soil (clover, legumes etc), we help it along with chemical fertilisers.

Organic Farming
If we haven't got the energy to produce these fertilisers, then we have to do it organically, but this is more difficult, more labour and energy intensive and true organic farming produces lower yields. For that reason I don't think organic farming will take over from intensive farming until energy costs dictate it necessary. It is the only sustainable future for farming, though.

Fuel and Food Poverty
There is already food poverty in the world. When we lose the ability to farm intensively (energy costs too high, fossil fuels run out), our food production will fall. This will result in more starving people, particularly in parts of the world where local production isn't able to support local populations. If we farm some land for fuel, we will be able to farm more intensively, so yields and amount of farmed land will be higher. However, it will still be lower than current food production


Ivan


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djh
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« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2008, 12:45:16 PM »

Assuming we go along with the 'don't grow fuel' argument, what I want to know, is this: If we want to continue to sustain current world populations without starvation, what do we do when fossil fuels run out?

The best hope I'm aware of is to use methanol as you mention (and dimethyl ether for diesel engines). It can also be used as a chemical feedstock. That begs the question of how to produce it Huh

It can be made from hydrogen and carbon dioxide (and should be, to recapture the CO2 produced when it's used), so we're back to whatever technologies can make hydrogen. So there are types of nuclear power stations that could make methanol as a byproduct and any form of electricity generation could be used. There are also thermal processes that can use solar energy directly. The great white hope is to find some catalyst that will turn water and air into methanol, but that's strictly blue sky. Probably the best place for further reading is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Oil-Gas-Methanol-Economy/dp/3527312757

Cheers, Dave
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« Reply #9 on: March 27, 2008, 01:13:11 PM »

Quote
Assuming we go along with the 'don't grow fuel' argument, what I want to know, is this: If we want to continue to sustain current world populations without starvation, what do we do when fossil fuels run out?

Will it be possible to sustain the current world population, this seems very unlikely as we have been artificially increasing our food supply by the use of artificial fertilisers. Will we not be like any other creature whose population booms when food is plentiful and crashes when food becomes scarce?
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NickW
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« Reply #10 on: March 27, 2008, 06:11:41 PM »

Assuming we go along with the 'don't grow fuel' argument, what I want to know, is this: If we want to continue to sustain current world populations without starvation, what do we do when fossil fuels run out?

The best hope I'm aware of is to use methanol as you mention (and dimethyl ether for diesel engines). It can also be used as a chemical feedstock. That begs the question of how to produce it Huh

It can be made from hydrogen and carbon dioxide (and should be, to recapture the CO2 produced when it's used), so we're back to whatever technologies can make hydrogen. So there are types of nuclear power stations that could make methanol as a byproduct and any form of electricity generation could be used. There are also thermal processes that can use solar energy directly. The great white hope is to find some catalyst that will turn water and air into methanol, but that's strictly blue sky. Probably the best place for further reading is http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Oil-Gas-Methanol-Economy/dp/3527312757

Cheers, Dave


Wash your mouth out Dave - suggesting nuclear might have a role to play.

Using PV to power air compressors to separate out co2 and electrolyse water would be hopeless. The amount of conversion / entrophy losses would probably make the whole process EROEI negative given the initial energy input to produce the PV.

PV at best is put on your roof and used directly to offset electricity consumption. On that point Martin and I agree on something! Grin
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« Reply #11 on: March 27, 2008, 06:19:48 PM »

Does anyone have any particular hints and tips for planting trees? I've got 1500 willow slips to plant next week as a shelter belt and for fuel. Also, some other bare rooted mixed deciduous trees  Huh Get someone else to do it would probably be the best idea  Cheesy

We are going to try using seaweed as an organic fertiliser by mixing it in the soil and also leaving it in water and extracting the resulting liquid. Also, could go in a biodigester  Huh

I read somewhere that you can get about 1000 litres of oil from one hectare of rape seed but I suppose that would be under ideal conditions, using GM seed and inorganic fertilisers  Angry


Here you go Eleanor - guano from bat roosts. Build your own roost and harvest their black gold!

http://www.soilandhealth.org/03sov/0302hsted/030212campbell/campbell%201-5.htm

Fantastic beasties really - they will convert all those midges, moths and mossies into valuable fertiliser.
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« Reply #12 on: March 27, 2008, 07:17:18 PM »

How about multi storey/high rise farms just outside cities.  Highly intensive veg rowing and contained/recycled nutrient run off.  Minimal haulage distance to market.  Giving more space to grow fuel crops.

Paul
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NickW
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« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2008, 07:44:23 PM »

How about multi storey/high rise farms just outside cities.  Highly intensive veg rowing and contained/recycled nutrient run off.  Minimal haulage distance to market.  Giving more space to grow fuel crops.

Paul


Hmmmm - one problem - plants basically convert sunlight to chemical energy. Sunlight per m2 is finite and determined by nature / a higher power than us. Other than that urban gardens a good idea - providing you can keep the hungry hoards away.
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« Reply #14 on: March 27, 2008, 07:51:57 PM »

If Biomass crops are used as a feedstock for anaerobic digesters along with human and animal wastes the nutrient cycle can be almost enclosed as the digestate from the process forms an excellent fertiliser as the organic nitrogen is transformed into inorganic nitrogen which is taken up easier by plants thereby reducing the amount percolating through soils and contaminating local water sources.

In addition as Phosphorus is one of the most important nutrients essential for the metabolism of biological systems. It is a vital component of artificial fertilisers derived from phosphate rocks. At current consumption levels it could be exhausted within the next 50 to 130 years.
 
Modern methods of farming and land use lose the added phosphates as the crops are exported and food and excreted wastes are dumped. The AD of food, human and animal waste produces a digestate that retains much of this phosphate eliminating or reducing the need for imported phosphates in the form of artificial fertilisers
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