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The Bonfire of the Environmentalists

May 18th, 2009
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Of all the nutty things going on now in Washington - and there are plenty of them - none can compare with the current push toward replacing coal with “biofuels” in order to prevent global warming. Here’s what’s happening. Utilities that are currently burning coal are being told that they will be able to meet their “renewable quotas” and become “clean and green” by substituting wood chips, agricultural wastes, turkey droppings, dead trees or any other organic material. The logic is that all this will somehow prevent global warming.

You think I’m kidding? Not only is this written into both the Waxman-Markey Bill in the House and the Bingaman Bill in the Senate, utilities around the country are already putting it into practice. When Southern Utilities recently announced it will substitute wood wastes for coal at a 155 megawatt coal plant near Albany, Georgia, Climate Progress - the “indispensable blog,” according to Thomas Friedman - called it “the best and cheapest near-term strategy for reducing coal plant CO2 emissions,” short of closing the plants altogether. (http://climateprogress.org/2009/03/18/southern-company-biomass-georgia-power-coal-cofiring/).

To understand why this is happening, you have to enter the convoluted jargon of global warming enthusiasts. Biofuel, you see, is “young carbon” while coal is “old carbon.” To a chemistry student, carbon is carbon but that kind of common sense doesn’t apply anymore. Instead, the thinking goes as follows. Agricultural products are made out of carbon taken from the atmosphere last year. Coal, on the other hand, was made from atmospheric carbon millions of years ago. Therefore if we substitute young carbon for old carbon, we are “creating a zero carbon budget.”

The flaw of this logic can be revealed by asking a simple question, “What was happening to all that organic material before it was being incinerated?” The answer is, “It certainly wasn’t going into the atmosphere.” Most of it would lodge in the various carbon “sinks” that hold most of the world’s carbon. Dead leaves and forest wastes sit in landfills or decay into soil on the forest floor. Switchgrass would mulch and provide fertilizer for next year’s growth. Animal wastes might collect in huge piles on factory farms but it wasn’t being vaporized. Once upon a time, environmentalists led an effort to promote this kind of organic recycling. The whole “organic farm” movement was built on returning organic wastes to the soil. Now all this stuff will be thrown on the Environmental Bonfire.

Fueling the pyre will be the 17 percent “renewable portfolio standard” that is in the Markey-Waxman bill. Southern legislators have already been complaining they don’t have enough wind and sunshine to meet the requirement. Now “biofuels” will solve the problem. They can meet the standards simply by burning trees. As the Energy Information Administration notes on its website, “Wood is a substantial renewable resource that can be used as a fuel to generate electric power and useful thermal output. . . The Nation’s forestland (or timberland) is the primary, and in most cases original, resource base for fuelwood.” One recent study showed it takes 90 years to make up for the initial burst of carbon release that comes from cutting down a forest, but don’t worry - we’re thinking long-term here. The insanity of all this is that, at the same time, companies will be able to earn “carbon credits” for planting trees.

So where is this all going to lead? Power plants in Vermont, Minnesota and North Carolina are already making plans to switch from coal to wood and agricultural products. These waste streams are slim and widely scattered, however, and will only carry us so far. Pretty soon people are just going to start cutting down and throwing them on the fire, just like our pioneer ancestors. Burning trees was eventually curtailed by the Conservation Movement, which began to worry that the future of the forests. But then they didn’t have enough sense to know about “young carbon.”

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25 Responses to “The Bonfire of the Environmentalists”

  1. Emilio Casado Says:

    Really I think that the environmentalists are kidding to the rest of the people. In Spain, the national Greenpeace organization has published an report proposing that all the energy come from renewables in 2050.
    One of the conclusions of the report is that it is necessary to cover with wind turbines and solar mirrors more than 100% of the SpainĀ“s area.

  2. Ken Moore Says:

    The other two aspects being overlooked are: 1) widely dispersed fuel sources will result in more transpotation related carbon generation because more and less efficient transportation, i.e. trucks instead of train, etc., is required to feed the plant, and 2) for some biofuels that lost recycling of the fuel stock back into the ground will require increases fertilization to achieve acceptable crop yields. The fertilizer requires energy to generate, distirbute and apply it which all result in carbon generation.

  3. Ed Riffle Says:

    The environmentalists have entered a dream state where everything is possible if only you can wish it to be so. Their lawyers have found the perfect clients who will contribute to the cause as long as they can hear the siren song. The rest of us will have to pay the cost of their muddled thinking unless we can take the system back from those who would use it only for their own gain and their own religious beliefs.

  4. michael johnson Says:

    washington has always been full of nuts, this is just a difference bunch of young nuts . WE HEED TO STOP THIS NEW WAXMAN-MARKEY GOOFBALLS THINKING.

  5. Mike L Says:

    I sgree with some of what you say and disagree with some other things. First there are Billions of tons of waste produced by our society every year, and I LOVE IT. We process all manner of waste into clean carbon for fuel for power plants, liquide and gaseous synthetic fuels and a host of other products. You people are paying us to take your waste and turn into gold for us. Please keep up the arguing so I can keep laughiing on my way to the bank. One more thing as a start up company we have broken the $300 million dollar make in sales of products and equipment. MAKE MORE RUBBISH.

  6. Mike L Says:

    I sgree with some of what you say and disagree with some other things. First there are Billions of tons of waste produced by our society every year, and I LOVE IT. We process all manner of waste into clean carbon for fuel for power plants, liquide and gaseous synthetic fuels and a host of other products. You people are paying us to take your waste and turn into gold for us. Please keep up the arguing so I can keep laughiing on my way to the bank. One more thing as a start up company we have broken the $300 million dollar make in sales of products and equipment. MAKE MORE RUBBISH.

  7. Geoff Thomas Says:

    It is a pity more thought did not go into the above article, as in reality the so-called Young Carbon, if it is in the natural environment, is rapidly eaten by bacteria, worms, etc, and farted back into the atmosphere.
    A certain proportion is retained as carbon in humus, and absorbed by plants, but that also significantly returns to the atmosphere when that plant dies.
    If I may be allowed to submit an article I wrote a few years ago,
    \\&quot;In 2005, according to a study done by the Australian CSIRO. a conservative scientific research organisation, the human race managed to throw 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, 2 billion tons more than 1995, - seems pretty grim eh, but in context, the natural world, the world of the plant kingdom, cycles 100 billion tons between the atmosphere and the land vegetation.
    Every Year.
    Now this is the natural cycle, plants grow, taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, turning into cellulose erc, then die or lose leaves and that material falls on to the ground, breaks down into compost/mulch, is eventually eaten by worms or bacteria and the carbon dioxide returns to the atmosphere, 100 billion tons per year.
    By diverting some of that carbon through gasifiers, wood stoves, methane digesters, charcoal fuel cells, various fermentation techniques and others I may not know of in such a way as to save electricity generated by fossil fuels, we reduce that 8 billion tons while not significantly interfering with the natural cycle.\\&quot;
    - This bonfire nonsense is un-informed prejudice, and should be no part of a rational person\\\’s opinions.
    Geoff Thomas.
    Australia

  8. Geoff Thomas Says:

    It is a pity more thought did not go into the above article, as in reality the so-called Young Carbon, if it is in the natural environment, is rapidly eaten by bacteria, worms, etc, and farted back into the atmosphere.
    A certain proportion is retained as carbon in humus, and absorbed by plants, but that also significantly returns to the atmosphere when that plant dies.
    If I may be allowed to submit an article I wrote a few years ago,
    “In 2005, according to a study done by the Australian CSIRO. a conservative scientific research organisation, the human race managed to throw 8 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, 2 billion tons more than 1995, - seems pretty grim eh, but in context, the natural world, the world of the plant kingdom, cycles 100 billion tons between the atmosphere and the land vegetation.
    Every Year.
    Now this is the natural cycle, plants grow, taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, turning into cellulose erc, then die or lose leaves and that material falls on to the ground, breaks down into compost/mulch, is eventually eaten by worms or bacteria and the carbon dioxide returns to the atmosphere, 100 billion tons per year.
    By diverting some of that carbon through gasifiers, wood stoves, methane digesters, charcoal fuel cells, various fermentation techniques and others I may not know of in such a way as to save electricity generated by fossil fuels, we reduce that 8 billion tons while not significantly interfering with the natural cycle.”
    - This bonfire nonsense is un-informed prejudice, and should be no part of a rational person’s opinions.
    Geoff Thomas.
    Australia

  9. C. Ponnu Says:

    Certain more aspects of bio mass energy ( result of bio mass combustion process) needs to be considered before calling this alternative as useless:

    Calorific value of wood chips with its high moisture content is almost half of coal. Coal or oil, thus, is nature’s concentrated energy form.Nature takes millions of years to get such concentrates ready and thus they can not last long unless our consumption is reduced to a very low extent.

    In case of Wood chips and agricultural residues nature takes less time to get them ready.( from 3 months to 5 years depending what type of agricultural residue or energy wood ).

    With agricultural productivity continuously increasing all over the world, more and more land would become available for energy plantations which would need lesser resources than agriculture and thus may provide a much needed source of energy.

    Bio mass is only one form of renewable energy (which does not compete with food) and can not claim to be the complete answer to coal or oil. So also other forms of renewable energy like solar or wind or geo thermal.

    Targeting energy forms like bio mass without considering all issues would result in diverting efforts in providing more research efforts in this area - like how to grow energy plantations faster or how to design a better boiler which will extract the maximum energy from agricultural residues and wood chips

  10. bilgewater Says:

    Let the strikers in Marseilles move forward and raise the rate for petrol.These port strikers should recall the famous 1980 coal strike in England which was based on the famous miners’ position:
    Let them all freeze to death.(This led directly to Margaret Thatcher.)
    This only leads to more investments in renewable or nuclear power.
    The same thing was done by the US United Mine Workers leader,John L. Lewis back during WWII and right after the war.He managed to convert the US to oil and gas fueled furnaces.

  11. bill cormeny Says:

    Have you studied the plausibility of thorium reactors? What are your thoughts on this topic?

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