Monday, February 05, 2007

Seeing Red: Palm Oil Biodiesel

In the enthusiasm for renewable energy and taking care of our environment, it is easy to assume that making fuel from plants (biofuel) must be by definition "green" and renewable. However when it comes to energy issues, easy assumptions can be dangerous assumptions. In previous years some politicians and advocates in Europe have made these assumptions without sufficient thought and research and secured government subsidies for companies importing palm oil from South East Asia to make biodiesel for transport and for use in electricity generation.

The demand for palm oil in Europe has soared in the last two decades, first for use in food and cosmetics, and more recently for fuel. This cheap oil can be used for a variety of purposes, including as an ingredient about 10 percent of supermarket products, from chocolate to toothpaste.

Promoted by hundreds of millions of dollars in national subsidies, the Netherlands quickly became the leading importer of palm oil in Europe, taking in 1.7 million tons in 2006, nearly double the previous year.

Now it is increasingly difficult to ignore the mounting body of scientific evidence that palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, rather than preserving the environment are in fact actively destroying it. By subsidising biofuels, European governments have artificially raised demand for palm oil in Europe, and accelerated the destruction of huge areas of rainforest in South East Asia. Palm oil plantations are often expanded by draining and burning peatland, releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result Indonesia has become the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, ranked after the United States and China, according to a study released in December by researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, both based in the Netherlands.

The 2003 European Union Biofuels Directive, which required all member states aim to have 5.75 percent of transportation run on biofuel in 2010, is now under review. In the Netherlands, the data from Indonesia has prompted the government to suspend palm oil subsidies.

In Europe a small amount of rapeseed and sunflower oil is used to make diesel fuel, however increasingly plant oils are being imported from the tropics, since there is simply not enough plant matter or land for biofuel production at home. So while the billions of dollars in European subsidies appear to have reduced carbon emissions in European countries by importing biofuels, this has been achieved by exporting them and increasing their impact many times by the permanent destruction of rainforest and peatland in South East Asia.

For anyone familiar with how the ethanol industry works in the United States, they will be unsurprised to learn that the palm oil industry was promoted long before there was adequate research. Biofuel Watch, an environment group in Britain, now says that "biofuels should not automatically be classed as renewable energy." It supports a stop on subsidies until more research can determine if various biofuels in different regions are produced in a nonpolluting manner. The group also suggests that all emissions arising from the production of a biofuel be counted as emissions in the country where the fuel is actually used, providing a clearer accounting of environmental costs.

BEFORE: rainforest on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo

Friends of the Earth estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia from 1985 to 2000 was caused by new palm oil plantations. In Indonesia, the amount of land devoted to palm oil has increased 118 percent in the last eight years.

AFTER: a palm oil plantation

Peat is an organic sponge composed of 90 percent water that stores huge amounts of carbon, which when it is drained emits huges amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Even worse peatland is often burned to clear ground for plantations. The Dutch study estimated that the draining of peatland in Indonesia releases 660 million tons of carbon a year into the atmosphere and that fires contributed 1.5 billion tons annually.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
the haze has covered much of SE Asia for extended periods of time since 1997

The total is equivalent to 8 percent of all global emissions caused annually by burning fossil fuels, the researchers said. "These emissions generated by peat drainage in Indonesia were not counted before," according to a Wetlands spokesperson. "It was a totally ignored problem."

While for the moment the widescale destruction of rainforests in South East Asia continues, hopefully the palm oil story will serve as a cautionary tale which will lead to much better informed policymaking and behaviour. Politicians must resist the urge to rush to legislate and subsidise in order to bask in the glow of being seen to be "doing something" while a number of so-called green companies profit from taxpayer subsidised destruction. Energy policy must make sense from a scientific (i.e. it should be energy positive), economic and environmental viewpoint. However the continued promotion of ethanol and coal-to-liquids calls for continued skepticism.

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Blogger Journey Home said...

I can not speak to the minutia and the science but it seems to me wherever we go for energy - if we pull it out of the ground we will be destroying the environment - how then to manage our resources - we better start replanting in a hurry - also didn't I read somewhere about ethanol - that it requires the burning of oil to convert the corn and the gain is an overall net loss due to the amount of oil used in the conversion process?

So what about the electric car and clean coal - don't we need to take the steps we have the technology for now - and retro fit all of the old coal burning plants before we strip the rain forest of palm oil?

It is a complicated scenario and a very intricately balanced eco-system. Converting from the old industrial revolution system to the new clean energy system is going to take some heavy lifting and political will - hopefully we are seeing that beginning to happen now.

Keep the faith and vote!


By the way I am linking your great site to mine -
and the companion blogs -

12:48 pm, February 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very informative post. Fascinating and disturbing. I'm glad I found your page. I'm linking to you from Stop by and say hello sometime. Cheers:)

7:37 pm, February 05, 2007  
Blogger Hari M Behl said...

One has to look for lands with zero density, such as degraded lands or lands where nothing grows. Feedstock that can grow with minimum inputs of water and fertilizers is the best bet. In India, we grow jatropha for biodiesel in such lands. it is criminal to cut forest to grow palm oil or any other feedstock.

9:03 am, February 06, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found a site that relates to this subject. It doesn't seem like they are actually doing anything wrong?

10:18 pm, February 07, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its disturbing to see how developing countries are willing to put profits in front of environmental protection. As a free trade advocate its hard to say this, but I think there need to be more tarrifs on products made in environmentally destructive ways to encourage developing countries to respect the environment. Otherwise any environmental improvements in countries with strong environmental standards are going to be reversed by countries with lax environmental laws.


6:43 pm, February 11, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

fantastic blog, thanks for the energy put into writing it. i hope you can claim a share of Gore/Branson's 25 million. i'm sure you've read Lovelace's book "The Revenge of Gaia." If you haven't I'd recommend it.

thanks again, I learned a lot.

7:25 pm, February 11, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is also a warning to the entire environmental movement. This certainly isn't the only case of something that seems green being significantly more destructive to the environment, although it may be the best. The enthusiasm and desire to do something now can often cause people to do something stupid.

6:01 am, February 12, 2007  
Blogger João Soares said...

Hi,friends of the Earth
Nice blog,too
I edit also an enviro blog and you are link here
Lets exchange links?
Lets join us for a sustainable world
Hugs from Portugal

6:24 am, February 21, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All this talk about alternative energies is fine and well but what is the real truth behind it?

What was General Eisenhower really warning about? What is it about the military-industrial complex that he saw in it that compelled him to make this warning?

The military has dictated the dynamism of the technology sector. GPS and the internet just to name a few.

It is not us nor the free market system that will dictate when America will adopt and use alternative energies effectively in any measurable way that will mitigate its' geopolitical risk to itself but its' military complex that will determine that!

So the question will be not when will America free itself from energy dependence of oil but rather how soon its' military can do so without something bad happening first!

yhoo search "invest_mavin"

'The World's Greatest Detective'
When A Revolution Is Born!

6:08 am, February 24, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great entry.

I think what we learn here is no energy source is completely green (even windmills can kill birds). We must strive as a world community to drastically reduce our energy & fuel consumption while choosing the least experimentally impacting energy sources.

Apparently palm oil isn't one of them.

3:38 pm, February 28, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So as far as biofuels, how about using garbage, stuff like orange peels? I've always thought that was a cool idea because it cuts down on the amount of stuff in the landfill while also supplying alternative fuel. Is there a catch to that one, too?

5:16 pm, March 08, 2007  
Blogger James said...


Yes garbage and food waste can be converted into usable energy. The reason I've not featured this on the Alternative Energy Blog is because like people running their cars on waste oil from fast food restaurants, it is an admirable example of recycling it is NOT a scalable solution for the general population.
i.e. there is simply not enough waste frying oil to become a significant part of the energy mix for the average person.

As to a catch there maybe some particular issues with burning certain types of waste. For example landfill gas may contain significant levels of toxic materials. You can find some of the potential issues with burning chicken waste on these links (note I have not verified this information):

Alternative Energy Blog

11:58 pm, March 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response and the explanation, James! I appreciate it.

With regard to using orange peels, sawgrass and other detritus as biofuel, I had this possibly mistaken impression that the California Institute of Food and Agricultural Research at UC Davis, or some research group there, was looking into ways to do this? So that might provide a scalable solution?

However, when I google it, I can't find anything, so maybe I was wrong.

11:51 am, March 14, 2007  
Blogger max said...

I agree, biofuels are fraught with environmental issues, economic efficency issues and sustainability issues. Almost invariably, the greenest, most economic solutions are conservation technology. See my blog for further details.

Energy Guru

1:46 pm, March 20, 2007  
Blogger Collaborative Investor said...

This is some great info. I heard about it yesterday on NPR. There is another blog i've checked out named It looks new but has some solid info also.


10:59 am, March 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Brazil they apparently use land that can be regarded as scrapland to grow sugar canes which is turned into ethanol. They don't touch their rainforests. VW produces the Polo there which Brazilians buy en masse (if they can afford it that is) and drive with ethanol. Also, they don't export the ethanol but use it themselves. In Europe we overproduce food (i.e. vegetables, milk, wine etc) which then rots away in "mountains". If we don't return this land to nature - because it is "financially not viable" - why can't we then grow sugar beet and produce ethanol instead? The idea of exporting this overproduced food to "developing" countries does not appeal to me as a) it uses up fossil fuels and b) it makes these countries even more dependant on "us".

12:21 pm, April 04, 2007  
Blogger anthony m, said...

Excellent job on your blog.Great job on educating people on alternative energy.Hybrid Cars

7:57 am, April 06, 2007  
Blogger PSYBORGS RISING said...

keep it up james! don't let the blog die!

3:58 pm, April 16, 2007  
Blogger jia en said...

there is truth in what james has posted regarding the evils of biodiesel/biofuel from palm oil. my father is a partner of one of the biggest palm oil producers in asia and we have spoken at length about his business and i have questioned him about the environmental and social responsibility of what he is doing. in fact, these findings were published by a dutch ngo and they sent it to my dad's firm more than a few months ago, pressuring them to act/respond.
over the last few years my father has become a much more environmentally and socially aware and is heading up the CSR movement for the company.
i asked him about this topic and here's what i've found:
- many years ago when the company was much smaller they did engage in slash and burn. after realizing the ills and coming under fire for contributing to the haze, they have stopped clearing land through slash and burn. they now cut and allow for natural decomposition.
- now the firm only develops plantations on land that has been overlogged or set aside by the govt (the latter being questionable since we cannot assume the govt has environmental issues in mind).
- they don't develop on peatland anymore as they learned of the problems associated with it.

i love the environment but we can't move out and live in tents. what i think we should be working towards as global citizens is not so much to find the one perfect solution to our current energy sources, but rather how each of us can live life more responsibly, with less impact, less wastage, and to slow down/reduce our consumption of resources.

8:14 pm, April 18, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think that biofuels are a stupid idea in the first place. I think it's funny that we are looking for new, more efficient ways to burn stuff we grow. We use corn now, but in Brazil they use the more efficient sugar cane. We hope to switch to switchgrass, but now I hear that some trees may be the best way to grow cellulose quickly. So after all this effort, the answer is that burning trees is probably more efficient than the technologies we hope to use. For people who want a biofuel alternative to coal, here is is: trees. Fermenting crops actually removes energy from the crops, so there is more energy a pound of corn than there is in the ethanol you get out of a pound of corn. In the U.S., the demand for biofuels has raised corn prices. This demand is really destroying biodiversity all over the world, though, and certainly isn't as efficient as people think.

6:36 pm, May 07, 2007  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

I'm currently doing some research on waste vegetable oils (eg used chip fat) - they can be used neat or made into biodiesel for vehicles. There are also examples across the world of cow dung and chicken waste being used as fuel in quite sophisticated ways. Apparently some Indian buses run on cow dung? These seem to be more genuinely green options. Sorry now I see Janis already mentioned the waste to fuel approach! I think these waste oils coukld be used for example to run city bus fleets etc and so can make a realistic addition to energy reduction. Basically though we all need to consume less anbd travel less!

6:20 am, June 06, 2007  
Blogger Jag Kaurah said...

I agree with the comments that there is no magic bullet as an answer to the energy problem and we need to work on all fronts.

However, bashing oil palm just because "they" are burning and killing and not "we" is wrong. We are one world now and we have to be objective.

Oil palm uses about 1/12th the land that say corn uses for the same renewable energy. So firstly, only 1/12th the land is cleared for oil palm as would be for corn for the same replacement of dinofuel. But then "We" cleared the land a long time ago and killed off everything there including the buffalo and we are not going to allow "Them" to do that now even though they are so much poorer.

Second, oil palm is a tree and lasts over 30 years unlike corn where we do massive damage to the environment by our annual planting, palm oil trees replace the forest.

I am not saying that palm oil is the answer, in fact I think none of the crops are the answer but they help, but palm oil is far, far better than corn which is totally unjustifiable.

Kind regards

9:08 pm, June 10, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whenever considering an energy resource, you need to look at the entire life cycle. When biofuels are produced from a crop (harvested responsibly and replanted regularly) there are zero net emissions because the amount of carbon etc. released into the atmosphere is taken back up when the crops grow again the next season. Yes, the burning techniques result in a more harmful energy source, but do not write off biofuels altogether. when managed responsibly, they will be a key part of our solution to climate change.

5:10 am, June 14, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

To Janis Mara who was interested (back in May at least) in the UCDavis project on waste generated bio-energy, here is the link:
If the link doesn't work, saerch for Prof. Ruihong Zhang in the UCDavis web-site.

8:44 pm, August 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is fascinating to read the comments made with regard to the deforestation and using of peat swamp for planting of oil palm. I remain skeptical about the report/comments which is painting a different picture from what I am familiar with. I have the following comments to make:

1. How many percent of these oil palm plantations are cultivated on peat swamp ? Do you know that oil palm does not does not grow well (will low year) on peat swamp. Farmers usually avoid peat swamp.

2. Most of the plantation actually replace the land used for shift cultivation, native has shift from shift cultivation to oil palm plantation. (small estate owners, The changing of crops grown by native has reduced the requirement of cutting and burning of jungle.

3. Malaysia have stringent laws to stop clearing farm land by burning years ago. Farmers in Malaysia are no longer burning any wood or peat when clearing their land.

4. What is the chemistry of peat swamp releasing CO2 without burning it ? If the peat is burnt there is nothing left for the oil palm to grow on.

5. Once the palm trees are planted, they will continue to absorb CO2 for 25 years until they are clear for new palm tree. The picture of a so call palm tree is actually a nursery for palm tree. An oil palm plantation is normally covered with grass which protect erosion. There is no different from jungle as far as vegetation coverage is concern. Some plantations actually raise cattle to feed on the grass.

6. I have travel almost every corner of Borneo island (Sarawak / Sabah)for the past 20 years. The oil palm plantation is covering an area far too small in threatening the live of wild animals (Sarawak / Sabah). The culprit threatening these animals are actually logging and corruption. A lot of area where these rare species of animal live is actually too remote and hilly for plantation. Logging cutting down of tree stop the food source (fruits) for these animals. The jungle track left after logging give excess for hunters.

To summarize, I cannot find any reason why palm oil is not a green renewable source of energy. I would advise those who are interested in these topic to know more about oil palm and Borneo rather than mislead the public.

The people of Borneo

5:41 am, August 12, 2007  
Blogger James said...

Interesting to get a comment from anonymous person claiming to represent "the people of Borneo".

Here are a few of my comments:

"Malaysia have stringent laws to stop clearing farm land by burning years ago."
Laws are one thing, enforcement is another. Illegal clearance continues.

"Once the palm trees are planted, they will continue to absorb CO2 for 25 years until they are clear for new palm tree. The picture of a so call palm tree is actually a nursery for palm tree."
Yes, rainforest is cleared and replaced with immature palm trees. Are you actually claiming these retain the same amount of carbon as rainforest?

"I have travel almost every corner of Borneo island"
You've been all over the third largest island in the world with a surface area of 287,000 square miles? Or do you mean just the corners? Was that on foot or by plane?

"mislead the public"
You've failed to point to anything in the article which is factually incorrect. It would seem you have a vested interested in promoting palm oil.

The People of Alternative Energy Blog

6:15 am, August 12, 2007  
Blogger James said...

"In all cases, the amount of CO2 sequestered (by forests) over a 30-year period is considerably greater than the amount of emissions avoided by using biofuels," Dr Righelato, chairman of the World Land Trust

The team of UK researchers also looked at the impact of clearing forests in order to convert land to grow crops used to make biofuels.

Dr Righelato said forest clearances had a large and immediate impact on the carbon cycle.

"Forest carbon stocks are in the region of 100-300 tonnes per hectare. Three-quarters of that is lost over the first year during clearing and burning," he said.

"It would take - in all the cases we examined - between 50 to 100 years to recover this carbon through the production of biofuels."


8:17 pm, August 22, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One has to look for lands with zero density, such as degraded lands or lands where nothing grows. Feedstock that can grow with minimum inputs of water and fertilizers is the best bet. In India, we grow jatropha for biodiesel in such lands. it is criminal to cut forest to grow palm oil or any other feedstock.

3:32 am, September 15, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Malaysia, one of the main producers for the most-debated palm oil. Like James, I am concerned with the global warming issues & threats on anything that affects our earth. Even though he is not the first person to bring up the issue, but still, he has done a good job of sharing his knowledge & point of view.
No doubt there are many concerns on palm oil plantation, but being a graduate in agriculture who knows the "Agriculture's 3Ps, I would feel it is totally unfair to lash all our thoughts in anger without studying the steps that have been done by the respective countries to prevent what harms our mother earth (3Ps; founded & recognised at Rio Earth Summit 1992 : stands for profit, people and planet).
We don't burn forests for oil palm plantation because open-burning is disallowed by law. Past vegetation are removed, and piled for natural decomposition. Like your country, we also have Protection of Wildlife Act, our state governments even establish sanctuaries to preserve both the population and habitats of biodiversity & wildlife. FELDA schemes successfully alleviated poverty among landless farmers through resettlements.
Oil palm is one of the forest species, it is not something alien from the biodiversity that human created to produce biofuels.
I am not representing the government to say all of the above but being a normal being that lives in the country, I would like to address to most of the people out there that every development is undertaken in a sustainable manner in the country.
We don’t live on the trees like most think we do. We know about technologies, we know about education and awareness. We know what is right, what should be done right and how to live right too, just like you.
I understand perfectly that my thoughts and words may not be 100% agreeable by everybody but I am telling the truth. The truth that may not have the weight to represent the world, but at least for my country.
[1997 haze : the cause is known by everyone, not by M country itself]

2:59 am, October 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Malaysia have stringent laws to stop clearing farm land by burning years ago."
Laws are one thing, enforcement is another. Illegal clearance continues.
-how do u know for sure illegal clearence continues? do you even know or have been to Malaysia? it is ignorant for you to think that developing countries have no law-enforcement. or perhaps u think we still run around with leafs

"Once the palm trees are planted, they will continue to absorb CO2 for 25 years until they are clear for new palm tree. The picture of a so call palm tree is actually a nursery for palm tree."
Yes, rainforest is cleared and replaced with immature palm trees. Are you actually claiming these retain the same amount of carbon as rainforest?
-most of palm trees are planted not -in-rainforest as was reported. some are, yes its true. but for most, it is even perhaps re-forestation effort. from open land, to be covered by dense trees that "are enthusiastically kept" by local people. this is important, because not only they plant trees but loved to keep it growing.

"I have travel almost every corner of Borneo island"
You've been all over the third largest island in the world with a surface area of 287,000 square miles? Or do you mean just the corners? Was that on foot or by plane?
-james, this is just cheap shot. low blow, man...

"mislead the public"
You've failed to point to anything in the article which is factually incorrect. It would seem you have a vested interested in promoting palm oil.
-for everything there is 2 sides of story. for every coin there is always 2 sides of things. why dont we have a healthy debate, instead of just cheap shots and getting offended by reading something that is not alligned to your views? would it be fair if people call you have vested interest against palm oil? maybe you are black campaigning against palm oil, to boost use of corn or sugar?
be reasonable.

10:29 am, October 30, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

Destroying the earth to save the earth?? 2+2 still equals 4 doesn't it?

9:12 pm, October 30, 2007  
Blogger Farmer on Mars said...

Some people have claimed here that the forests are no longer being burned, but nothing could be further from the truth, as recent satellite images show:

3:28 pm, November 05, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:58 pm, December 08, 2007  
Blogger ORANGEHOUSE said...

Honduras has begun a national campain to grow palm oil for biodeisel production. I would like to see the small scale biodiesel production at the village level, so the off grid communities can generate their own power. I take engineering students on overseas trips to do similar work with pico-hydro, solar, and wind power. We are researching ways to make biodiesel from coconut oil, which is better than palm oil for a number of reasons.
Read about some of these adventures at ttp://

11:23 pm, December 09, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Though done for the right reasons, the effect of these subsidies are appalling.

Of course the subsidy programme should be run-down to stem further deforestation, but great care also needs to be taken with regards to existing palm plantations and demand for palm oil.

If the demand from existing palm oil plantations drops off a cliff, what will happen to (1) the land used to cultivate palm oil and (2) the people that depend on that income?

I’d like to say that the EU should pay to reforest some of this land to claim it back and try and reverse some of the damage caused.

But I dislike the prospect of the west being held to ransom regards preservation of rain forest by countries that claim they have to tear it down to make ends meat – I don’t buy it.

Will these countries simply say 'oh well - if the EU is going to stop our palm subsidy then we have no option but to go rip down another swathe of forest to generate the income we will lose'.

The West needs to be more creative and more committed about fast tracking its own methods of renewable energy generation, rather than being lazy and trying to simply import a quick-fix from somewhere else.


4:31 pm, January 06, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Industrial farming in itself is not environmentally friendly, whether you are raising corn, cane or beets. Witness our own destruction of the Mississippi and the resulting 'dead zone' in the Gulf Of Mexico. Chemical pesticides, fertilizers and erosion are the eventual result, the dustbowl didn't grow naturally. Centralizing everything has proven itself to be a poor solution, especially in Agriculture and the animal growing industry. We need to accept the fact that different places have different energy needs, and stop trying to solve these problems like a single, standard national solution will fit. Biofuel is a poor alternative, and bears a much heavier environmental cost that many people don't want us to know about. The economic blinders that dictate so much of our policies are at work here, externalizing the true costs because to Economics, if you can't count it in dollars, it does not exist. True opportunity lies in solar and wind power, if the motivation were there for better energy storage methods. The thing holding that up is the ease with which people could generate their own power for residential use and render the power utilities obsolete except for the demands of industry. Some companies are even trying to own the panels on your roof so they can charge you for the free electricity coming out of them. With better energy efficiency in the home and a few solar panels on the roof, we have the ability to render the residential electric bill extinct. It should not cost $30,000 or more to equip the average home, the industry is designed to scare you away from solar as too expensive. Everyone likes solar, as long as they can sell it to someone else.

8:20 pm, January 11, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


12:17 am, January 15, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for the great blog, love this stuff. I don’t usually do much for Earth Day but with everyone going green these days I thought I try to do my part.

I am trying to find easy, simple things I can do to help stop global warming (I stress easy, I don’t plan on going out and buying a hybrid). I took the Earth Day Challenge that is promoting ( ) and I am planning on lowering my score. They have some pretty good tips (they call them pledges).

I am looking for more easy fun stuff to do. If you know of any other sites worth my time let me know.

3:59 pm, March 28, 2008  
Blogger Dahun said...

Burning food in the case of ethanol, palm oil or any biofuels are not the answer. Even with sugar cane alcohol the affects of cutting down rain forests in Brazil for sugar cane plantations is an ecological disaster. There is not enough, and the cost in energy and pollution to produce these fuels is not saving energy and is not cleaning the air. Wind farms and solar are 5 times more expensive than conventional energy, require huge subsidies and since wind is 75% inefficient and needs back-up 75% of the time from conventional sources it can hardly be called clean. It also will never be able to suppply our needs.
The answer is to develop plug-in hybrids that will use efficient energy and have the range necessary to be practical. Power must be generated by nuclear power which is inexpensive, plentiful and 100% clean. If we had 100% nuclear power we would save burning 1.1 billion tons of coal each year and have the lowest cost power possiblle.
We could then become energy independent by the reduced usage of oil for gasoline and by drilling in ANWAR and offshore, developing shale oil which has three times the reserves of Saudi Arabia and develop coal to oil. We would be 100% energy independent for hundreds of years and have 50% less emissions due to not using as much gasoline and not burning coal or natural gas for power.
No alternative is capable of this. Two nuclear plants produce as much power as all the windfarms and solar in the world and produce power for one fifth the cost and four times as clean. Alternatives do not clean the air, cost far too much, are wildly fluctuating and cannot meet our needs. They are very expensive pork-barrel projects that waste money and provide false hope.

8:20 am, July 01, 2008  
Blogger James said...


You state that electricity generated from wind farms is 5 times more expensive than conventional energy (i.e. coal or natural gas). To the best of my knowledge this is untrue and you must provide a referenced source to make such an assertion.

You also confuse efficiency and intermittancy. The wind is always blowing somewhere, it is a question of using a variety of sources.

Wind power doesn't need to be called clean, it is clean. Nuclear power by its very nature is radioactive. Uranium is certainly not plentiful and if you suggest breeder reactors as a solution please give an example of one which operates efficiently and economically somewhere on Earth.

Nuclear power is expensive and takes a long time to build. The industry is not even willing to accept liability in the case of an accident. Please supply figures that show nuclear power is cheaper than coal because i've never seen any evidence of this.

Your claim about lowering emissions is interesting, elsewhere on this blog you dispute global warming so presumably you are not talking about carbon dioxide. Oil shale and coal to oil will increase emissions and pollution not lower them.

Finally please give an example of a wind farm which is a pork-barrel project. Ethanol, hydrogen cars and FutureGen (clean coal) ARE examples of pork-barrel projects.

Alternative Energy Blog

2:38 am, July 02, 2008  
Blogger Christmas Village Nut said...

Hi James,
Great blog, which is closely linked the raging Oil vs Food argument but from an environmental angle instead of the moral and ethical aspect.

In the late 80s, I was a timber merchant out of Indonesia, dealing directly with Perum Perutani and Inhutani, Govt. organizations controlling the timber sector. Let me tell you that corruption is intrinsic, endemic in the Govt. system so it comes as no surprise that the policies would be chosen for their potential to make a few within Govt. rich and to hell with the consequences.

But we from the developed nations are equally guilty by our uncontrollable greed for energy by our lifestyle choices.

Unless we are willing to contribute by using less COME WHAT MAY, it is utter hypocracy to point the finger at those who are producing more, BY ANY MEANS.

Abatement and Mitigation must go hand in hand before meaningful dialogue can take place, otherwise it is just a finger pointing exercise.

I hate it that the US, with 5% of the population, feels justified to generate 30% of the world's Anthropogenic CO2.


9:11 pm, July 04, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Alga (algea) oil? There seems to be some newer research that suggest that it may be scalable, renewable, and can (according to the scientist) create upwards of 70,000+ gallons per acre on closed vertical systems. Honestly, sounds too good to be true. I am sure we can find some underutlized arid land that we don't have to devastate our most fragile and important ecosystems. Love to hear your thoughts as I am not an expert.

5:17 pm, July 05, 2008  
Blogger James said...


With regards to Algae based fuels (algal biodiesel),

to quote Dr. John Benemann (who has over 30 years experience in the field:
There are now scores of venture-financed companies, university research groups, government labs, garage start-ups, GFT licensees, web sites, and on and on claiming that they have, can, may and/or will produce algae biodiesel, at low cost, high productivity, soon, etc. None are based on data, experience, reality or even a correct reading of the literature.

While it may be technically feasible, it's nowhere near commercially feasible for the foreseeable future (although as with other technologies with potential research should continue).

For further information see:

Alternative Energy Blog

6:32 am, July 06, 2008  
Blogger James said...


Please email me. You can find my contact details at the bottom of this page.

4:27 pm, July 06, 2008  
Blogger Christmas Village Nut said...

It is my understanding that the problem with algae bioreactors is getting even distribution of light throughout the growing medium, whilst growing them in an open environment can lead to contamination by weeds and other parasitic organisms.
But the Japanese have cultivated spirulina successfully for many decades as a food supplement, so the technology does exist and should be easily transferable to fuel-producing algae.
Fuel from Algae has been termed the "Third Generation Biofuel". We haven't yet succeeded with the "Second Generation Biofuel" from cellulosic Ethanol, so we shouldn't be disappointed that no workable solution has as yet been demonstrated.
Meanwhile, we can all do our part by using energy a bit less wastefully.

5:49 pm, July 06, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey you guys Marlena has it right obviously read the same stuff as me. We can talk till the cows come home but the fat cats wont do a dam thing until its too late(maybe is already) My bet is mother earth will do what is needed. My advice is get your house as high up as possible make it bullet proof and grow your own food within your own community. the sh*ts already hit the fan its how far up the wall it goes. good luck. I,ve already checked out of the rat race and live in a kampongin Sabah. these people are already low carbon footprint. The west is the culprit, wheres the forests of europe gone?? Quick ice age should sort things out ehh?? sorry just being a realist theres too many people not enough room nothing can keep growing for ever without dying back now and again. I think its high time we bald monkeys had a slap.I,ve been warning folk for 15 years or more and what changes? nothing. Dumb sheep most only interested in the last episode of some soap opera or the top speed of some car baaaagh baaaagh. Come I say mother N bring it on!!!!!!!!

10:05 pm, September 09, 2008  

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