Monday, March 17, 2008

Bioenergy Food Politics

This is an interesting new development. The link between biofuel and rising food price has been on the agenda for several years. Higher food prices have made American corn-belt farmers happier but there has been riots against rising corn prices in Mexico.

In New York, Vinod Khosla and Big Oil started a “food fight” at the Wall Street Journal’s ECO:nomics conference, where Khosla accused the American Petroleum Institute for linking food price increases to ethanol production, saying “The API started issuing press releases about food. Suddenly they got interested in the welfare of poor Africans.”

The Brazil bioethanol production has also been critizied for its food-connection. We had a case in Finland where the ALTIA ethanol plant program was discontinued due to the "rising price of metals (China) and locally produced crops in the area". The huge demand for water was also discussed.

“We have never said anything about ethanol being responsible for food prices,” said American Petroleum Institute President Red Cavaney. “It was Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke in recent Congressional testimony who linked a 4.5% increase in food prices to rising worldwide demand and the amount of corn going to ethanol.”

Who says what?

Khosla suggested government rules mandating that service stations dispensing more than $5 million worth of fuel a year should have E85 pumps. Recently, “Vinod you are still totally clueless” and “there will be pie in the sky by-and-by” were among comments hurled at Khosla in response to a three-part series of articles posted at Grist.

Figthing for distribution rights...Consumers make their decisions at the pump, right!

The second series focused on Biomass, including regulatory standards , “better agronomy for energy crops” , and “cellulosic ethanol yields“.

Cellulosic ethanol yield is a big issue in Finland. We're trying to get in grips with this movement. New ideas about improving they yield are circulating in the visionary meetings, but the basics are still handled by F-P technology.

Among dozens of responses, writers accused Khosla turning “self delusion” on carbon cycles into a “mass delusion”, adding comments such as “cellulosic ethanol is such BS and that’s not just for the fertilizer.”

Cellulosic ethanol...what is new?

Among other proposals, Khosla endorsed a CLAW standard for sustainable production of biomass:
  • C — COST below gasoline
  • L — low to no additional LAND use; benefits for using degraded land to restore biodiversity and organic material
  • A — AIR quality improvements, i.e. low carbon emissions
  • W — limited WATER use,
Khosla was but was pilloried by critics of CLAW for ignoring soil degradation from fertilizers and the practice of monoculture. Other writers questioned where all the trucks would come from, to transport miscanthus or switchgrass from field to refinery.

Cellulosic ethanol...from harvesting residuals and the roots. First thinnings can also be used for this purpose. However, the day will come when fertilizers have to be brought back to the woods.

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