Friday, December 18, 2009

Biofuels Not Food for Fuel

On a recent article the nature of Biofuels came into question. All this green revolution calls for hybrid cars, wind, recycling yet the United States goverment looks at Ethanol as a major source of energy. Instead of using traditional waste products like decomposed fruits and produce, or spent sugar cane waste (bagazo) to generate the fuel it is being lobbied to use corn and sugar beets from the mainland's foodbelt. Food for Power, which is a stupid way to go.

This discussion inspired Antigonum Cajan's article

for which I made the following comment:

biofuels are plain wrong when food is used to offset the carbon dioxide
emissions. the largest options to generate biogas, biodiesel,etc. are on the aaa
sewage plants and on agricultural waste. both can benefit from a centralized
waste treatment center using anaerobic treatment to generate methane while
eliminating a lot of waste to the landfill, and even beneficial byproducts such
as compost or mulch. hell, even the option of shredding and using tires as fuel
was ignored by 'environmentalists'. the tire problem is still there. not all
biofuels are created equal.

Antigonum Cajan's remark regarding biofuels is accurate. My point was very rushed, tried to cover too many bases at once. My point was -Not all biofuels are created equal-. If we truly want to harvest energy sources and go green, we need to find sources that are currently a waste. If not, the whole point of reuse is lost. Also, if one is to obtain energy the net production must be positive. If it takes more energy or cost to generate the energy sent to the grid then we are actually spending more energy than we did before. What is the point of recycle then? We ended worse than before.

[image from]

Way before this language of green buildings, LEED certifications, sustainability or even the Reduce Reuse and Recycle campaigns engineers, especially chemical engineers, were experts on what we knew as Loss Prevention. We did (and still do) a holistic analysis of a process and look at every feed stream, at every waste stream and every source of emission. A material balance, if I get 100 pounds in, I have to get 100 lbs out. All waste needs to be accounted for, either as a waste or as a potential product that can be recovered and reused. Waste is to be minimized. At least that was our original aspiration.

The approach used to push inefficient ethanol against other technologies is the effort of a large lobbying effort in Capitol Hill. Many have denounced this fiasco, as presented in this article from Rolling Stone of about 2 years ago (

From a technical standpoint corn ethanol is not a non viable ptocess. The problem is that to generate the fuel you spend energy at a ratio 1.3 to 1 for corn ethanol against a 5 to 1 ratio for gasoline. Plus the ethanol mixtures have a much lower heating value than that of other fuels. Therefore this is not a cost effective way of solving the energy crisis.

Therefore the potential is to use waste products to generate this energy. What problems does Puerto Rico currently have:
(a) Overloaded Landfills
(b) Inefficient Wastewater Plants with Deficient Solids Management
(c) Large farms with chicken, pig and horse manure
(d) Large amounts of vegetation that ends up in the landfill after pruning
(e) Surplus feeds of food wastes or decomissioned food (whatever happened to Pan American Grain's bug infested rice)
(f) Enormous amounts of damaged tires
These are the streams that need to be used to generate any power. Given the proper air pollution control devices and management of liquid and solid byproducts the wastes can be used to generate power to the electrical grid and any waste generated can be made into useful byproducts such as mulch, asphalt or concrete aggregates or sawdust.
There are many ways to achieve this (and will be discussed on further articles at the Alcantarilla), what we need is to have public officials with the interest of creating proper public policy. We also need to have proper 'environmentalists' that look realistically at any project comparing benefits and environmental impact. Not all progress is bad. You cannot just prohibit any type of construction at the expense of not constructing anything at all.
It is really an educational process for all involved. Puerto Rico is full of motivated professionals focusing on the ethical and correct approach to sustainability. The problem resides on two extremes: environmental activists that are really blocking the progress in Puerto Rico based on a political agenda who really give a hoot about the environment and the other extreme where those in charge of prociding assesment to our public policy officials only see the green reaching their pockets. If Puerto Rico is to go forward these two extremes need to disappear.

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1 comment:

Prometeo said...

Usar el alimento para mover un vehículo ha sido la idea más absurda en la historia de la humanidad. Por ahí se acerca una hambruna a nivel mundial y la cosa se pondrá fea.

Adelante y éxito.

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