Ethanol isn’t the only biofuel


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Mista Fitz at Flickr.com.
There’s currently a bit of a corn shortage, driven by rising food consumption, ethanol consumption, and changes in diet in developing countries. Luckily, corn isn’t the only alternative to oil.

While ethanol made from corn gets the most attention, there are all sorts of other biofuels under development. There are companies working on producing ethanol from straw and other farm byproducts such as coconut fiber and cotton seeds. There are factories working on producing diesel from landfills, turkey processing waste, algae, canola, old tires, and other low cost sources. In fact, the US government is actively promoting development of alternative fuels, especially alternative fuels made from non-corn sources (would that be alternative, alternative fuels?):

The government is pushing to get the industry off the ground. Legislation passed last year mandates the use of 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2022, less than half of it from corn ethanol. Almost all the rest is supposed to come from nonfood sources, though the requirement could be waived if the industry faltered.

The future of our fuel supply is going to be very different, and there are positive signs that we’ll be using more green biofuels sooner than anyone expected.

Photo courtesy of
jurvetson at Flickr.com.

Eco news of the week


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Brooklyn Bridge Baby at Flickr.com.

Here are five big environmental stories that you might have missed this week:

1) Saudi Arabia is planning for a future without gasoline. The Kingdom is investing in education and hopes to develop new industries and exports that will supplement oil in the near term and replace it in the long term.

2) Small is big. Due to rising energy costs and environmental awareness, architects are finding a surprising demand for smaller homes.

3) Have you heard of CarbonRally.com? It’s a carbon calculator site that’s different from the hundreds of other calculators out there. Instead of focusing on environment harms, the site reinforces good behavior with instant feedback about the progress you’ve made. After all, even minimal impact can be discouraging to focus on.

4) Speaking of carbon – Al Gore and T Boone Pickens are both pushing aggressive energy plans. These gentlemen, who come from very opposite sides of the political spectrum, are stressing that carbon free electricity is more than an environmental issue. They opine that moving away from coal and oil will make a huge difference in the US trade deficit, bolster national security by increasing energy independence, and position American companies to prosper against global competition.

5) Did you know that the Prius fails Georgia’s Vehicle Emissions Test?

US Bureau of Land Management Reverses Anti-Solar decision

A few months back the US Bureau of Land Management announced a two year halt to granting permits for solar farm development on federal lands.  The bureau had expressed concern about the possible unknown effects of large footprint solar farms on wildlife in undeveloped areas. 

As an environmentally aware individual, I can certainly appreciate that a little caution is warranted. But the effects of high pollution methods of generating electrical power are far from unknown.  We are in a crisis situation where we need to be exploring every reasonable option. 

The Bureau of Land Management administers more than 250 million acres of land in the US, much of it is perfect for solar farms and wind farms.  We are not talking about carving up Yellowstone, or drilling for oil in pristine tundra.  There is a lot of land in more desolate areas that solar and wind farms can be installed without adversely effecting the natural ecosystem anywhere near the impact of the current dirty methods of power generation.

In response the public reaction tothe moratorium on solar the BLM has reversed it decision and will once again be accepting applications.  The BLM will still be closely monitoring the environmental impact of the new sites. 

In a press release here

“The BLM has a longstanding commitment to advancing renewable energy development,” added Caswell. In 2005 the BLM completed a PEIS for wind energy development on public lands and recently published for public comment a Draft PEIS on geothermal energy development. These efforts and the current solar energy initiative will facilitate opportunities for renewable energy development on the public lands.

Eco News Roundup: 5 Quick Environmental News Stories


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wallyg at Flickr.com.

Here are a few quick stories that you might have missed last week:

First off, many different newspapers, tv shows, and blogs have discussed how high gas prices are discouraging people from driving their cars. Well, another factor is at work in many big cities – high parking fees are also encouraging people to conserve gasoline. For both of those reasons, we’re seeing record levels of use for public transport, carpool lanes, and bicycles.

Also, the weak economy is making it difficult for many families to afford organic food. If the high price of groceries is keeping you from enjoying organic produce, the article includes a guide to choosing which foods are most important to buy organic.

Across the nation, electric prices are on the rise. In Texas and Pennsylvania, deregulation of the electric markets may be partly to blame for high energy prices.

Speaking of Texas, the Lone Star State has taken a big step to develop more wind energy. This is a big development, because Texas is a huge electric market and the Texas Interconnection is one of only 3 electrical regions in the US.

Ford, GM, and Chrysler are all seriously re-thinking their offerings for next year. For car designers, low-Carbon is “in”.

Cut back on fertilizer and help save the Gulf of Mexico

scum-ken-ichi-fl
Photo courtesy of Ken-ichi at Flickr.com.
Fertilizer doesn’t belong in the ocean.

Every time it rains, excess fertilizer washes off into rivers that eventually feed into the sea. Unnatural levels of phosphorous encourage algae to grow, and algal blooms suffocate fish or poison them with neurotoxins. The effect happens so fast that animals don’t have time to run away – they die in huge piles just like the people caught in Pompeii.

Many people who overuse fertilizer don’t realize that they’re causing an environmental disaster. Also, fertilizer abuse runs up huge, unnecessary bills. Money spent on excess fertilizer is literally poured down the drain. Homeowners and amateur gardeners are the worst when it comes to overusing fertilizer. According to the National Academy of Sciences, homeowners use 10 times more fertilizer than farmers do per acre.

The Gulf of Mexico is one area where runoff is particularly bad (since the Mississippi river manages to catch a lot of fertilizer). This year, research suggests that the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico will be larger than it has ever been before:

The zone off Louisiana reached a record 7,900 square miles in 2002. A recent estimate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Louisiana State University shows the zone, which has been monitored for about 25 years, could exceed 8,800 square miles this year, an area roughly the size of New Jersey.

And excess fertilizer isn’t the only problem facing the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf has a large oil drilling and refining infrastructure, and accidents happen far too often. For example, the Mississippi was closed today due to a messy collision between an oil tanker and a barge. That’ll leave a mark.

Unless people raise awareness about water pollution and fertilizer abuse, 2010 will see an even larger dead zone. Now is a good time to start reversing the trend – 8,800 square miles of dead water is already far too much. Be part of the solution – talk with your neighbors about how much fertilizer you use, and suggest natural alternatives that are low in phosphorous and nitrogen. Instead of high NPK values, try using compost tea and promoting helpful lawn bacteria. With the help of microbes, plants are able to get more benefits from the soil in a process called nutrient cycling.


Photo courtesy of
mrjoro at Flickr.com.