Cellulosic Ethanol, Beautification and Employment … :)
Okay, don’t take the post very seriously, only mildly seriously. First things first, corn ethanol is stupid. It is a complete boondoggle. It solves no energy problem as it costs just as much energy to create compared to what you get in the end. It diverts crops which should be grown for food to fuel production. This is creating / contributing to the global food shortage. It is just dumb on so many levels.
So let’s talk about cellulosic ethanol. It’s real value is that non-food crops can be converted to fuel. That’s great, however one argument against this plan is that you still need land to grow these non-food crops which will take away land from food crops. True. The refinement to this idea is to use crop waste as the fuel. You grow corn and harvest the corn for food. Then instead of tilling the stalks underground to decompose, you harvest them too but for fuel. The same land does double duty. Excellent! However some have observed that there may not enough energy content in the stalks to fill the US ethanol demand. This may be the case, I don’t know. I have not looked into it in depth, but it makes sense on its face. Corn stalks are relatively flimsy, not particularly dense plant structures. Not like wood which has a very high energy density.
So let’s take this as a given. Hmmm… so we want a plant structure with a high energy density (woody branches or stems), does not compete with food crops, and grows very easily (preferably without fertilizer)…. You know, there is are two crops that really fit the bill. The first is Hemp. camistocks, StockSpreadsheet, and others have blogged about this before. They problem is all the idiotic red tape from the government and DEA (HELLO, Hemp is NOT CANNIBIS). … Sorry. But, there is another….
For those of you who are not familiar with the atrocious invasive vine, let me explain. Kudzu is basically a vine, kind of like a philodendron on steroids, testosterone, Human growth hormone, Uppers, Speed, Meth, etc. It is actually a huge problem in the Southeast United States. It grows over everything. It is so invasive and so hard to get rid of, that there are orchestrated burnings of it. And the kudzu doesn’t care, it just grows back stronger. If you have ever driven outside of Atlanta, you know exactly what I am talking about. This stuff just covers the ground and trees for miles, choking out all other plant life. It was originally brought to the US from Japan about 100 years ago as an ornamental plant and it got wickedly out of control. For more reading, please click here.
Okay, so the title of this blog was Cellulosic Ethanol, Beautification and Employment. Where do all of these topics fit in?
First the Cellulosic Ethanol. Obviously the kudzu can be used as a fuel. It is an extremely tough, fibrous vine (some craftsmen actually use it to make baskets). I am sure it has a very high energy density.
Also it doesn’t take any fertilizer to grow. It spreads literally like wildfire. And it is not taking away any crop land. It is by definition a nuisance.
As far as Beautification and Employment: First the employment. This is not a crop that can be harvested with a combine. But it also doesn’t take an fertilizer or arable (expensive) land. So instead of spending money on combine usage, fertilizer, land use, etc. spend money on crews to come in the machetes and industrial weed whackers and bush hoggers to harvest it. Next, Beautification. It really is an eye sore in most places. So the initial harvest of kudzu can be to remove it from all the places where it is not desired, beautifying the land and adding back value. Subsequent spreadings and harvests can be confined to land that is already unused (and currently unusable do to the presence of the kudzu in the first place).
…. ?. What do you think. Again, take this a brainstorming. Like I said at the beginning, this is not a serious proposition, but one that may be worth considering.
As far as cellulosic ethanol, madcowmonkey pointed me to an article regarding DuPont’s involvement: Dupont Invests In Cellulosic Ethanol