Saturday, January 27, 2007

Biofuels -- The New Snake Oil?

IOFUELS are suddenly big in the Philippines.

Congressman Juan Miguel Zubiri is running for the Senate under the Palace ticket. Styling himself as "the Green Candidate" Migs is pushing BIOFUELS, as an environmentally friendly solution to the Philippines' perrennial oil supply and price problems. During a recent Private Conversation with Boy Abunda on ANC, Rep. Zubiri was waxing eloquent, poetic, even fantastic about the potentials and possibilities of the Biofuels Act of 2006 recently signed by the President. He claims that biofuels are:

(1) the answer to persistent energy and environmental problems;
(2) that their development and production will lead to countryside development and decongestion of the cities; and
(3) eliminate the need for Filipino engineers and scientists to seek work abroad as OFWs "since they can work on biodiesel plants in Batangas."

All this, because the Biofuels Act provides for a mandatory blend of at least five percent bioethanol into vehicle fuel by 2008 and 10 percent by 2010?

But before you start planting sugar cane or jatropha in your backyard and jumping on the biofuels bandwagon, let's take a bit of a reality check...

The total land area of the Philippines is about 300,000 square kilometers, of which 19% is reported to be "arable land" or 60,000 square kilometers. In a sense this represents the maximum biofuels potential of the Philippines for a specific thing like ethanol from sugarcane. If you plant every square inch of land to sugarcane, you can calculate how much ethanol you can potentially make (assuming of course we are willing to give up growing our own rice, corn, and other crops for FOOD.)

Indeed, the Washington Post:(False Hope of Biofuels) did that calculation for the continental United States, which has a land area of 9.8 million square kilometers, based on the known yield of 350 gallons of ethanol per acre. Likewise, one can make the same calculation for Brazil whose land area is 8.5 million square kilometers.

Do the Math, Migs. You're full of BIOGAS man!

FOOD OR GAS? Of course the elephant in the biofuels bandwagon is what the environmentally correct but scientifically inept insist on ignoring. Here is how Polytechnic University of New York researchers put it in that Washinton Post article above--
Finally, considering projected population growth in the United States and the world, the humanitarian policy would be to maintain cropland for growing food -- not fuel. Every day more than 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes -- one child every five seconds. The situation will only get worse. It would be morally wrong to divert cropland needed for human food supply to powering automobiles. It would also deplete soil fertility and the long-term capability to maintain food production. We would destroy the farmland that our grandchildren and their grandchildren will need to live.
This is another example of how environmental ideologists ignore simple science and bring about unforeseeable consequences, as in the amazing case of DDT, which was "demagogued out of use." Now we have a new snake oil being pushed in biofuels.


Nick said...

Please don't lump all "environmental ideologists" into the pro-biofuels camp. From what I'm reading on the issue, I see more anti-ethanol advocates in the "environmental" camp than I do those that that advocate for biofuels (which tends to be those that have a direct business benefit from the subsidies).

Marcus Aurelius said...


I saw on Drudge last night a tortilla vs. ethanol headline.

As you are most likely aware the ethanol thing is popular up her in the Upper Midwest. Even politicians would be suspicious of such schemes dare not tread in opposition to it.

One possibility is the old vegetable oil. Apparently you can sub it for diesel and get nearly the same bang from it than diesel. Mythbusters did an episode on it, the gauged a diesel vehicle's mileage with diesel and then poured in used & filtered frying oil. They fell short, but by about 9% (30 vs 33 mpg). That has potential, but when it catches on then big vegetable oil will start to gouge us.

Amadeo said...

The Zubiri family in Bukidnon is now arguably the most influential in the province, with at least one or two sugar mills and who knows how many hectares planted to cane.

Time was when that distinction went to the Fortich family, whose main business was essentially ranching and maybe some farming.

The question in my mind then is why a Zubiri is now pushing for biofuel out of cane (?) instead of sugar which is the traditional product?

Is the market, both internationally and domestically, for sugar that bad? Or is the equation such that one gets more out of biofuel than sugar?

Jego said...

The illusion that we can maintain our present levels of consumption with biofuels is hogwash. That's what they dont tell you. If you want to maintain present levels of energy consumption to light your malls, run your (electric or hybrid) SUVs, and play with your PlayStations, then there is only one alternative: nuclear energy (Malampaya has been found to have uranium deposits). Either that or we need to cut back drastically on our dependence on foreign oil.