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Ethanol, biomass, and fast food: about sizes and relations

Abstract: Last week I got a newsletter of pointing to an impressive interactive graph on biomass & ethanol boom. Some parts of that information pointed to stocks, investments, subsidies, and profit. In the course of elections politicians put alternative energy sources on the top of their daily awareness  agendas. This raised somehow the impression that our energy issue is resolved, but we should know better. I put a couple of information resources together to enrich the discussion with background on actual research to get the numbers in a more adjusted perspective.

In the weeks before the US election I received a newsletter from pointing to some political topics related to this very important election. One of the contributions was about the ethanol boom from a local US viewpoint. One contribution describes the early investment and subsidies phase, which is typical for new technology to come to market. The other slide show discuss the impacts of ethanol production from the regional farmers in South Dakota. It articulates the perspective “fortune”.

What is the impression you get once you read or listen to this information? Simple: the dependency of energy provisioning is “solved”. Numbers are that impressive, that it’s difficult to get right proportions. But there is also other information. Early this year in the context of a local German discussion on the value of biomass production, I read a governmental research on impacts and sizes. Although this publication is in German, it clearly articulates environmental and biological aspects to be considered, once we believe biomass might “solve” our typical energy consumptive behavior. Interesting to be read (also german) are the Vilmer thesis on the “biomass production”. They are grouped in

  • definitions of biomass and ecology terms
  • bioenergy, glas house effects, and economical progress
  • impacts on nature, environment, and landscape
  • justice, responsibility, and way of live
  • juristic aspects.

Aligned to the 2008 world conference on “biological diversity” (one of the follow-ups on the Rio convention), an international team of scientists discuss above proceedings in more details.

To market new technology the system of subsidies is welcome to increase the pace. Especially in environmental cases, such governmental actions are valuable. An overview is at Global Subsidies Initiative. There I saw also literature on the biomass/ethanol business in EU and OECD countries. These contributions are warmly recommended to get a notion about relations and proportions. Reading this information you probably get an impression about the lobby between government and farmers. Biomass production heavily competes with food production, as we should know. In discussions to Alternative sources for our energy demand.

A filmmaker was last week in the news regarding his film “lets make money”. He produced also another very interesting film about food production “we feed the world“. This trailer discloses impressive messages. One of them is: “the daily waste of bread in Vienna is of the size Graz needs bread for daily provisioning”. The distance between both cities is about 200 km. The population size of Graz is 14% of Vienna.

Today’s newspaper draw my attention to a very interesting site on human ecology.  One of the articles from their last issues (August 2008) was on the relationship between fast food, vegetarian alternatives, and energy consumption.

Most impressive numbers might get less of value once we consider them in relationship to others. Still reduction of consumption is the best alternative to compensate the demand for energy. This is also valid in the recovery of the financial crisis as most countries have an impressive gross national production based on consumption.

In my quick internet research on this topic, I found a very impressive presentation (German) on “challenges and risks of biomass from the viewpoint of environmental protection“. Although you can’t understand all details, please look to the pictures and note the numbers.

Kind regards Paul

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