Apr 11, 2014 by Lee Hart

Fighting the renewable fuel devil

I don’t believe I have seen any studies yet challenging the value of motherhood, but I am sure one is underway somewhere.

In that vane, it was interesting to read this week that scientists are working to develop a more mechanical means to produce ethanol, which could replace the nasty practice of producing biofuels from corn, soybeans, canola and wheat. Closing that ugly chapter on green technology can’t come soon enough.

But seriously, it wasn’t that many years ago — within the last 10 to 15 years — you couldn’t go to a farm conference in this country without some expert extolling the virtues of technology to produce crops to produce fuel — a renewable energy source. And in many cases, there were plans to build biofuel refineries across the country — bring us your canola and wheat and we will make fuel. Good for the environment, good for farmers.

A few of those projects did materialize in Canada. We now have grains and oilseeds processed to make fuel. Of course the U.S. made it mandatory to include ethanol in fuels, and now leads the world in producing 13.3 billion gallons annually. To support that demand the U.S. is expected to plant about 91 million acres of corn in 2014, which could produce about 14 billion bushels of corn. A huge renewable energy industry.

But now researchers, bless their hearts, have come up with laboratory technology that could turn the proverbial water into ethanol by zapping it with electrodes. Researchers the story says “…built an electrochemical cell – a device consisting of two electrodes that were put in water saturated with carbon monoxide gas. One of the electrodes was made of a material they call “oxide-derived copper.” When voltage was applied across the electrodes, the carbon monoxide gas was converted into ethanol, they said.”  I can’t wait for the home kit where you drop one end of modified booster cables into a stale dugout or pond, clamp the other end onto a battery, and voila…there’s your ethanol.

The research, and it may die an early death — who knows, but it could in theory replace the practice of processing crops to produce biofuels, which the story also says has been criticized for being “energy-intensive, takes up vast tracts of non-agricultural land, uses too much water and fertilizer and pushes up food prices….” Talk about your 15 minutes of fame.

This technology or any change is a long way off, and may never materialize, but it is interesting to note how one great, green idea of just a few years ago starts to get a bit tainted. Similarly, wind and solar power, oh man, it had nothing but potential. Now a few years into it, setting up these renewable energy projects is almost as palatable as creating a designated smoking area next to a playschool.

As spring starts to creep across Canada, with a few glorious days, I am beginning to wonder do we really need all this sun?  How good is it for us? Freckles aren’t fun. Are we looking hard enough to find some alternative? I imagine someone is working on that somewhere.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Hart

Lee Hart


Lee Hart is a long-time farm writer, and honorary member of the Alberta Institute of Agrologists, with many observations on the agriculture industry, who never hesitates to admit he is wrong (should that ever happen.)


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