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Indybay Feature

The Myths of Biofuels

fridleydg.jpg
Date:
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Time:
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Event Type:
Speaker
Organizer/Author:
Michael Levy
Email:
michael [at] lwgc.net
Phone:
427-9916
Location Details:
Louden Nelson Community Center, Rm. 3
301 Center St., Santa Cruz

* Can biofuels solve the climate crisis?
* Is ethanol production good or bad for the environment?
* What about cellulosic ethanol?
* Why did a UN official recently label iofuels production “a crime against humanity”? (Jean Ziegler, special rapporteur to the UN on the Right to Food)

David Fridley, of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division of Lawrence Berkeley Labs, will address these questions in his talk “The Myths of Biofuels” on Thursday, January 24, at Louden Nelson Center, Room 3, at 7 pm. The event is Free/Donation requested.

Fridley, whose work centers on end-user energy efficiency, spent many years in the oil industry and is an expert on energy issues in China. He helped to draft the Peak Oil resolution adopted by the City of San Francisco to prepare for the inevitable decline in oil resources.

Fridley’s talk presents a scientists’ point of view on the many claims currently being made about the role of biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, in a sustainable energy future. Separating the hype from the facts, he will clarify the many issues about biofuels in language clearly accessible to a general audience.

While not denying that there may be some useful small-scale applications for biofuels, Fridley makes clear that biofuels are no replacement for our rapidly depleting fossil fuels. “The amount of energy that we consume in fossil fuels every year exceeds the amount of energy that is captured from the sun in every plant in America, including the roots,” he says.

He also makes clear the humanitarian impact of a biofuels-based future: “There is simply no way to achieve [the current target] levels of biodiesel blend…if we don’t want people to starve….Why we have chosen to take the fundamental of human life [i.e. food] and link it to the price of a nonrenewable resource [i.e. oil], is an irrationality I don’t understand.”

His presentation will be followed by “A Local Plan for Energy Independence” presented by transportation expert Micah Posner and NASA researcher and solar advocate Joe Jordan. According to Posner, “ There’s no reason to convert an oil addiction into a biofuels addiction. Energy independence starts with walking to the store.”

Added to the calendar on Mon, Dec 17, 2007 5:56PM
§The Myths of Biofuels with David Fridley
by via PeoplePower
by Michael Levy, Local Solutions for Global Problems

Americans eat up our body weight in petroleum once each week, as a result of our strange proclivity for driving everywhere—a third of all car trips in the U.S., for example, are under three miles. Nonetheless, pointing out the obvious idea that we need to largely stop driving and flying in order to address global warming and a whole host of other problems is a sure way to become unpopular, fast. It seems easier for most people to consider a change of technology—even at some financial cost—than a change of lifestyle.

During the past year I've had conversations with friends—many of them environmentalists—who enthusiastically respond with the promise of cars running on hydrogen, electricity, compressed air, and of course, biofuels in forms such as used restaurant fry oil, biodiesel, and ethanol. I haven't won points by explaining that none of these technologies are likely to rescue our climate the way that getting out of our cars would.

Biofuels seem to be a particularly alluring proposal as a solution to the problems associated with fossil fuels. It seems "eco" to recycle restaurant grease, and it's appealing to think that the carbon dioxide generated by burning biofuel will be absorbed by the next crop of corn or switchgrass. In fact, you can do some good this way. San Francisco, for example, has embarked on an ambitious program to run its city vehicles partially on recycled restaurant grease, which otherwise clogs the city's sewers. This is a nice thing. But it's a tiny thing—and it should stay that way. Biofuels are simply no match for the immense quantity of fossil fuel energy we consume. Each year we use up about 4,000 years of prehistoric plant growth in the form of fossil fuels. Put another way, according to one estimate, we in the U.S. use more fossil fuel energy than the amount of solar energy captured by every growing plant over our entire land area.

The U.S. government and E.U. are working against this problem of scale and embarking upon programs of massive biofuel reliance. This is ultimately not a solution, and scale is only one of many problems with large-scale biofuel production. Among other issues is the humanitarian disaster that production of biofuels is already creating. Growing large amounts of corn, soybeans, and canola for fuel has already driven the price of these and other food crops through the roof. This past year, corn prices have increased by 50%, while wheat has doubled, in part because land is being used for fuel production instead of food. This hits poor countries hard. The situation is serious enough for Jean Ziegler, U.N. rapporteur on food issues, to call biofuel production a "crime against humanity," and call for a five-year moratorium.

There are also significant ecological drawbacks of trying to fill our voracious appetite for fuel by growing plants. For example, to fill the European demand for biodiesel, Indonesia has cleared millions of hectares of forest to plant oil palm. The resulting emissions from exposed peat soils and burned trees have earned Indonesia the distinction of being the third-largest greenhousegas- emitting nation in the world.

There are many more interesting facts to learn about biofuels. With wanton disregard for our social standing, members of People Power's Local Solutions Committee are hosting a talk on the Myths of Biofuels, with David Fridley, energy researcher from Lawrence Berkeley Labs. Beyond pointing out what won't work, the evening promises to point us in a positive direction, as Micah and Joe Jordan follow up with a discussion of a realistic plan for local energy independence. We hope to see you there.
It's pretty simple - loss of market share.

The fact is that the first alcohol-electric hybrid was patented in 1903, and petroleum interests have been fighting the notion of biofuels ever since. What if you could run a hybrid on ethanol produced by U.S farmers that got 60-80 mpg - well, that would be kind of nice, wouldn't it? Who would it hurt? Well, it would hurt the owners of petroleum refineries in the United States, who've been enjoying a monopoly market in fuel for many decades now.

Most of the rise in food prices has more to do with U.S. agriculture running monopoly schemes all around the world than with "biofuel conversion." The oil industry has been fighting biofuels for over a hundred years, after all.

Even the UC system has been involved with the war against biofuel production - UCSC, for example, claimed that they were running campus buses on biofuel for several years while they were, in reality, fueling them with petro-diesel. See Are those UCSC Biodiesel Buses really running on Biodiesel?, Indybay, Aug 2006.

This guy is an employee of the oil industry - I'd take whatever he says with a very large grain of salt.
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