Posts Tagged ‘Jane Goodall’

There are good and bad sides to biofuels, as Jane Goodall points out. I will explore this in detail in a series of articles that express my opinion and cite scientific reports or discussions. First, a bullet-point summary of key points is given below.

Much of the good/bad duality of biofuels has to do with the following questions:

  • where do the biofuels come from?
  • what are we destroying in order to generate biofuels?
  • what are we consuming in order to generate biofuels?
  • what are we failing to produce in order to generate biofuels?
  • Many (most) of the crops being planted for biofuels are destined to generate biodiesel, not bioethanol.
  • Some plants grown for fuel are intended to produce a type of diesel called straight vegetable oil (SVO).
    • SVOs contain a number of impurities, at least as far as fuel oil is concerned. Even water is an impurity here.
    • Just as an example, you only have to press the oil out of the olives to remove it.
    • Peanut oil and practical coconut oil can be also be collected mechanically, like pressing olives.
  • Biodiesel is more pure than SVO or WVO (if made properly). It is made by chemically splitting animal fat or vegetable oil into two parts, followed by purification.
  • The standard chemical reaction to make biodiesel uses alcohol (methanol or ethanol) and a catalyst.
  • This reaction, called transesterification, generates fatty acid esters and the byproduct known as glycerol.
  • One example that seems to me to have little or no downside is the generation of biodiesel from fish oil:
    • Fish oil is already generated by the fishing industry.
    • Fish oil is potential waste that already exists and may not be used as efficiently as possible.
    • Fish oil conversion to biodiesel still needs to be pushed forward by invention and commercial development.
  • Another example of a method that exhibits great potential is the conversion of all of a plant’s dried matter (known as biomass) into biodiesel:
    • Plant oils are only about 10% of total plant biomass in most cases
    • Using all the biomass to generate biodiesel captures much more of the value of a plant, and the energy that went into growing it, than using only plant oil does
    • Cellulose and lignins are components of typical biomass and are hard to convert into liquid fuel, compared to oils

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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It was reported by Timothy Gardner of Reuters that Jane Goodall, one of the world’s best-known scientists, has come out strongly against the planting of biofuel crops in tropical areas because this is typically accompanied by extensive destruction of rain forests.

So, whether it is “corn-to-ethanol” raising your food prices or fast-growing weeds for generation of fuel, one must question the true benefits of “bioenergy” or biofuels in many cases.

The situation is different in the case of waste oils being converted into biodiesel: waste is being put to good use here. Treating food and rain forests like waste is another matter, one that we can expect to be harmful to the planet in many ways. I’ll be discussing this at length over the next few weeks.

This quote from Jane Goodall, as reported in the Reuters article, sums things up perfectly: “Biofuel isn’t the answer to everything; it depends where it comes from.”

See here for another recent report on biofuels in India, and here for a summary of consumer waste.

© James K. Bashkin, 2007

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