I have read with interest the comments on the use of bio-fuels.
There are some important points that need to be made:
1. The discussion should make distinction between different
types of bio-fuels.
- Ethanol can be easily produced, with simple equipment, from
grain, utilizing the starch portion of the kernels. The
remaining portion of the grain may be available for other
uses, where drying or transportation costs are not
prohibitive. Ethanol (methanol too, I believe) can be
produced from the cellulose based parts of the plants, but
the process is considerably more complicated. These fuels
are suitable for spark-ignition engines, replacing
- Oil seeds can be pressed to produce an oil fuel which can
be modified to be a satisfactory diesel engine fuel. The
process is not complicated, and can be done on a small
scale. Oilseed crops that have been used include soybeans,
rape (canola), corn, and peanut.
- Many crops produce a large amount of biomass that can be
burned directly for fuel. This is not a new idea, and
farmer publications often report innovations designed to
burn various farm products for heat. For example: large
round bale burning furnaces; kernel corn fired stoves.
2. It is unlikely that agriculture could ever supply enough fuel
to replace more than a small fraction of the current USA
petroleum consumption, especially using oil-seed or ethanol
fuels. However, it would be quite possible to fuel the
agricultural machines with agriculturally-derived fuels. Bio-
fuels may have special niche markets where biodegradability or
other characteristics are valuable, or where they are used as
a component to a fuel, as in "gasahol".
3. It is true that we don't want to encourrage farmers to remove
too much plant material from the field, because doing so may reduce
the organic matter. however, some crops, such as winter wheat in
our area, produce a surplus of straw. There is room to remove a
considerable amount of this material without much impact on the
organic matter of the soil, especially compared to the way the land
is often farmed now.
Geoffrey Shropshire GSHROPSHIRE @ UIDAHO.EDU
Bio & Ag Engineering Dept
University of Idaho voice: 208 885-6398
Moscow, Idaho 83844-0904 FAX: 208 885-7908