An Alternative Perspective on Biodiesel

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An Alternative Perspective on Biodiesel : 

Presented by Robert Nelson Jan 8th, 2008 An Alternative Perspective on Biodiesel

Why Are People Attracted to Biodiesel? : 

They believe making their own fuel is a cool way to be self-sufficient. They believe promising technology will negate biodiesel’s problems. They believe it represents a non-corporate energy future. They believe it is cleaner than fossil fuels or carbon-neutral. They believe it makes energy independence possible. They believe it is one of the silver BBs that could “solve” peak oil. They believe it could smooth the curve of depletion and thus soften the collapse. They believe it won’t harm the ecosystem or compromise food and water supplies. They believe it could be done on marginal lands. They believe we’ll need some biofuels in the future, so we should develop it now. Why Are People Attracted to Biodiesel?

Biodiesel claims you may not hear anywhere else: : 

Energy Independence is fundamentally incompatible with personal automobiles. Biodiesel cannot replace much oil. Without a collapse or reform of the monetary system, biodiesel will change nothing about our predicament. Biodiesel is not carbon-neutral. Biodiesel is no solution; it is only a delaying tactic. Biodiesel delivers false hope that paralyses efforts at real change. Biodiesel will expand the industrial model to the remaining areas of the planet. Biodiesel will increase corporate control of the Earth’s surface. Biodiesel could be a harbinger of famine and death for millions. These claims rest on the idea that all 10 of the previous common beliefs may be completely false. Biodiesel claims you may not hear anywhere else:

Slide 5: 

Critique: Well, yes. It is cool, but we don’t live in a vacuum! So, we have to see what happens when EVERYONE does it, not just one person in a vacuum. Belief #1: Making your own fuel is a cool way to be self-sufficient. It’s about SCALE

Slide 6: 

Belief #2: Promising technology will negate biodiesel’s problems. Critique: What are the inputs? Energy Returned? Where will the materials come from? What do the waste profiles look like? As with Nuclear Fusion, the big breakthrough is always just around the corner. Millions of acres outfitted with this equipment? How often does it need replacement? Where does the water come from? What oil price makes this economical?

"Solazyme Unveils Renewable Biodiesel Derived from Algae via Scalable Process" : 

"Solazyme Unveils Renewable Biodiesel Derived from Algae via Scalable Process" http://www.prnewswire.com/mnr/solazyme/30888/ Transcribed from a video on that page @ 1:37: “We don't actually produce oil through a direct sunlight process. We actually feed sugar to the algae. They are a thousand times more productive at making oil when you feed them sugar than feeding them sunlight. The process works on non-food feedstocks like corn stover, switchgrass, wood chips and sugar cane. This is a much cheaper way to make renewable energy.”

Slide 9: 

Belief #3: It represents a non-corporate energy future. Critique: This is not going to be a bunch of permaculture farmers growing soybeans and huckleberries. Palm plantations like the one at right are already common. Leading cause of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. Biodiesel from palm plantations produces 33 times more CO2 emissions than regular diesel fuel.

Slide 10: 

Critique: Deforestation for palm plantations isn’t “carbon-neutral.” Growing crops requires electricity to pump water and natural gas to produce fertilizer. Refining uses methanol and other products and is not a clean, toxin-free process. Biofuels pollute like fossil fuels, but different pollutants. Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), which creates smog Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Belief #4: It is cleaner than fossil fuels or carbon-neutral. The Inescapable Fact: Running millions of cars is a DIRTY PROPOSITION!

Slide 11: 

Critique: Not without a severe reduction (~70%) in per capita consumption, which amounts to collapse of our monetary and economic systems. Even $147 oil only cut 0.9 mbd of US demand in 2008. It would take the end of the economy as we know it for demand destruction to help here. Energy Independence would mean one thing for sure: few personal cars or else maybe a massive famine. Belief #5: It makes energy independence possible. Global Food and Fuel Production Profiles US Oil Consumption 2007 US Oil Consumption after 2008 “Demand Destruction” US Oil Production (and still in decline) { United States Energy Independence gap { Compare to the entire world food supply 2008 US Corn Ethanol Production 2008 US Ethanol production 31% of US Corn Output 25% of US Grain Output 5% of World Grain Output.

Slide 12: 

Critique: There is no “solution” to peak oil because our monetary system is designed to require infinite growth of resource availability and consumption. That system cannot be changed by agreement, so it will only be changed by collapse. This “silver BB” only extends the current system and delays the inevitable. Meanwhile, it takes resources away from productive responses that could actually help. Help how? Help envision and build a replacement system that is local, human scaled, and thus somewhat resilient to the collapse of globalism. Belief #6: It is one of the silver BBs that could “solve” peak oil.

Slide 13: 

Critique: It doesn’t smooth anything. It only shifts the depletion curve farther into the future or changes the overall shape a bit. This only helps if the time is used to make appropriate preparations. That seems unlikely, since we’re not working on those projects right now. If it brings famine and drought at the same time as the depletion curve descends anyway, that makes things WORSE, not better! Belief #7: It could smooth the curve of depletion and thus soften the collapse.

Slide 14: 

Critique: Food and water supplies are already threatened by overextending ecosystems to meet growing demands from industrial cities. The last thing we need is more demands on freshwater supplies. New deforestation strategies are not “green”, “clean”, “responsible” or “renewable.” Unfortunately, they are proving to be scalable … so far. Belief #8: It won’t harm the ecosystem or compromise food and water supplies.

Slide 15: 

Definitions of marginal land: Land which, in its natural state, is not well suited for a particular purpose, such as raising crops. Land that is too hilly, wet, or contains soils that are fragile and of lower quality for crop production. Land which barely pays the cost of working or using. Belief #9: It could be done on marginal lands. Critique:

Slide 16: 

Critique: The U.S. is still the 3rd largest oil producer. Americans still have more than our share of oil, so why do we need to add biofuels? Why does the rest of the world need so little? With 85 million barrels of oil produced per day, why do we need to add more production? Do we actually need to expand industrialization, deforestation and resource depletion? I’d say what we really need is learn to live on seven percent or less of the world’s energy! Belief #10: We’ll need some biofuels in the future, so we should develop it now.

Recap: Why Are People Attracted to Biodiesel? : 

Recap: Why Are People Attracted to Biodiesel? They believe making their own fuel is a cool way to be self-sufficient. They believe promising technology will negate biodiesel’s problems. They believe it represents a non-corporate energy future. They believe it is cleaner than fossil fuels or carbon-neutral. They believe it makes energy independence possible. They believe it is one of the silver BBs that could “solve” peak oil. They believe it could smooth the curve of depletion and thus soften the collapse. They believe it won’t harm the ecosystem or compromise food and water supplies. They believe it could be done on marginal lands. They believe we’ll need some biofuels in the future, so we should develop it now.

Why Should We Eschew Biodiesel? : 

Why Should We Eschew Biodiesel? Where do we draw the line? ? ? ? “Hmm, What else could we burn?” “Burning Stuff” is not as cool as thought. We’ve been doing it thousands of years

Why Should We Eschew Biodiesel? : 

“Burning Stuff” is not as cool as thought. We’ve been doing it thousands of years. It does not solve the problems people think it will solve. Why Should We Eschew Biodiesel? Oil Wars Big Oil Companies Are Too Powerful No Transportation Food Wars? Replace Them With Big Ag? No Food?

Why Should We Eschew Biodiesel? : 

“Burning Stuff” is not as cool as thought. We’ve been doing it thousands of years. It does not solve the problems people think it will solve. Injects new momentum into an industrial system that is friendly to corporations, but hostile to people. It is neither clean nor carbon-neutral. It damages already endangered ecosystems. It threatens famine and drought in the future, on top of energy depletion problems. It gives corporations incentive to buy up the best farmland, threatening any future for sustainable, locally-owned food production. It commits sorely needed resources away from useful change and towards continuing the industrial lifestyle and the car culture. (Some of those resources may be sitting here right now!) Why Should We Eschew Biodiesel?

The Myths of Biofuels : 

The Myths of Biofuels Filmed Seminar by San Francisco Oil Awareness in 2007 http://www.sfbayoil.org View the Film Free Online Or download a mpeg4 file Online http://www.archive.org/details/Myths_of_Biofuels Speaker: David Fridley Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory San Francisco Oil Awareness, and author of the SF Peak Oil Resolution Former Oil Industry Professional with Caltex China Many of the Same Conclusions! Offers a lot more scientific detail that I have left out here “Raping our environment” to change nothing (55:34) “We can offset one year of post-peak decline with several decades of effort, but we can’t offset the second year” (57:21)

Hard Questions to Ask Ourselves : 

Hard Questions to Ask Ourselves How can we come to terms with the fact that personal cars are fundamentally incompatible with energy independence and true sustainability?

Hard Questions to Ask Ourselves : 

Hard Questions to Ask Ourselves Can we do anything to escape from the global growth economy? If we are not able to respond outside that system, are we really making any difference?

Hard Questions to Ask Ourselves : 

Hard Questions to Ask Ourselves Is it realistic to think that “green” advocates can gain or maintain control of policy around biofuels, and thus prevent destructive outcomes?

Takeaways : 

Biodiesel is a strategy to save the cars and the growth economy. Worthwhile strategies would protect food and water supplies and support human civilization on less energy. Popular biodiesel strategies will not accomplish the former, while endangering the latter. Takeaways

Questions & Discussion : 

Questions & Discussion

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