The Happy Arab News Service

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Woodstock Revisited

Abbie Hoffman interrupted The Who's performance during Woodstock 1969 to attempt a protest speech against the jailing of John Sinclair of the White Panther Party. He grabbed a microphone and yelled, "I think this is a pile of shit! While John Sinclair rots in prison ...". The Who's guitarist, Pete Townshend, unhappy with the interruption, cut Hoffman off mid-sentence, snarling, "Fuck off! Fuck off my fucking stage!" He then struck Hoffman with his guitar, sending him tumbling offstage. Townshend later said he actually agreed with Hoffman on Sinclair's imprisonment, though he made the point that he would have knocked him offstage regardless of his message.


The price of corn shot up by 70% over the last year reflecting the growth of ethanol economy. Yet most experts reckon that in the best case corn based ethanol can reduce American dependence on oil only by 10-15%. The fundamental problem with ethanol is its low energy balance which should be something around 1.3, means ethanol yields only 30% more energy than was spent to produce it. Even such staunchest supporters of ethanol as Vinod Koshla see corn based ethanol only as an intermediate, first generation biofuel.

Compared to ethanol sugar cane's energy balance of 8.3 looks as a totally different story and this fact gives additional meaning, if not the main one, to president Bush's recent visit to Brazil. Bush's ethanol vision includes not only the USA and Brazil but central America and the Caribbeans. Of course from the moment Bush decided to move to ethanol many anti globalists immediately declared their opposition to ethanol on the grounds that corn ethanol competes with food crops, and sugar cane ethanol means death to rain forests in Brazil to be cut to clear space for sugar cane plantations.

Yet, at least in theory, there is something better than even sugar cane with its 8.3 energy balance. Trees and switch grass are rich in cellulose and their energy balance can be theoretically as high as 16. Koshla, who poured millions into setting ethanol plants all across the US, makes no secret of the fact that corn based ethanol can go only that far. It is cellulosic ethanol that will win the war on oil for America (and that on the Arabs for Israel :D NB).

The Economist writes in Woodstock Revisited:

Treethanol has particular appeal in countries that have a lot of trees and import a lot of fossil fuel.

Enter Woodstock. . .

Top of the list is New Zealand: in 2005 the country exported lumber worth NZ$411m ($290m) and imported fossil fuel costing NZ$4.5 billion. In January two of New Zealand's Crown Research Institutes, Scion and AgResearch, announced a research partnership with Diversa. The aim is to investigate the feasibility of producing enough ethanol from trees to fuel all the vehicles on New Zealand's roads without fossil-fuel imports—in other words, to make the country self-sufficient in energy.

BioJoule, a start-up based in Auckland, New Zealand, is planning to build a pilot plant to produce ethanol from a type of willow. The idea, says James Watson, BioJoule's co-founder, is that farmers would grow coppiced willow trees which could be processed into wood chips and then transported to a conversion plant to be turned into ethanol. . .

Because willows are fast-growing and can thrive even on nutrient-poor soils, BioJoule's technology could also be used in other parts of the world where there is strong demand for energy, but the soil is not suitable for food crops. Mr Watson thinks China and India look promising. . . (They are very very promising. NB)

Yet it's Sweden that leads the way on everything related to biofuels and treethanol:

Another country keen on cellulosic ethanol is Sweden, which is relying heavily upon wood-based solid and liquid biofuels as part of its plan to wean itself off oil by 2020. But where New Zealanders favour willows, the Swedes prefer poplars, since they are abundant and their biology is well understood, says Mats Johnson of SweTree Technologies, based in Umea in northern Sweden.

If you read what you read, then you read it right. It's happening, gentlemen. By 2020 Sweden is planning to completely drop oil for good. Sweden has recently set up dozens of ethanol plants to do just this. Even if they miss a couple of years on the way it's still a tremendous example that no Western government would be able to ignore.

Some technical issues are still to be resolved before treethanol becomes economically viable. Some of them are about reducing the cost of industrial enzymes used to break down cellulose. And this applies to any cellulosic ethanol, not only treethanol. Apart from this, treethanol has its own issues like the fact that trees grow too slow. Some of the solutions may come in the form of genetic modification or using conventional breeding and cloning. Those, interested in the details, should better read the article itself as long as it's open to non-subscribers. In any case, until cellulosic ethanol comes of age, low carbon economy is impossible . . . When it does, it will be unstoppable. Just watch this space - Sweden.

A prophet said:

מצפון תיפתח הרעה על כל יושבי הארץ

ירמיהו א אי

I don't know how they say it in Arabic . . . But whatever it is, for the Arabs too, it's coming from the North.

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Proclaimed un monstruooo muy monstruoso at 2:32 AM