The administration leading this nation has given the green light to the Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to join forces to the tune of an $8.9 million investment to accelerate the development of new alternative energy technologies. You can read the DOE announcement here.
There is definitely a great deal of talk buzzing about alternative energy solutions lately and I wondered if you are as confused about the meaning of biofuels as I am.
Just exactly what are they? And, more importantly, where do they come from and how will they benefit us?
This is the definition of Biomass from the U.S. Department of Energy Website:
“The term “biomass” means any plant derived organic matter available on a renewable basis, including dedicated energy crops and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, agricultural crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other waste materials.“
In plain English, Biofuels can be derived from the parts of the plant such as the fibrous, woody portions that are inedible (such as corn stalks). Therefore, they do not compete with food sources. The biofuel components called biomass feedstocks can also be fast-growing trees, shrubs, and grasses. One such plant, the Jatropha plant, has been grown successfully in Africa’s Congo for some time now. It thrives in marginal or poor soil and appears to be a drought resistant perennial.
In the midst of my research for this article, I came across a wonderful commentary by Hugh Downs, a former correspondent for ABC News and the television show, 20/20. Hugh wrote this in 1990, a full twenty years ago – he was light years ahead of his time and there is a wealth of information about Hemp and the possibility of using it for biofuel. Hemp may be another word for Marijuana but you cannot get high on hemp and when it is turned into biofuel you apparently do get high-mileage. You can read Hugh’s full commentary here.
Biofuel. The mere mention of the word should conjure up visions of green technologies to replace our nation’s dependence on foreign oil suppliers. But can this venture between the DOE and the USDA really be the solution that saves this country from the energy crisis? I wonder.
The key to successful biofuel production must insure that no food sources or farmlands are compromised. In other words, a farmer should not convert crop land or food-producing land to farmland that is solely producing biomass. Since farmers are earning less money these days, I hope this doesn’t turn into an alternative money-making proposition.
We could easily become a nation of energy producers who are starving to death.