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Author Topic: Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?  (Read 5516 times)

Offline Chris Sherburne

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« on: 11/10/2009 13:30:04 »
Chris Sherburne  asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Hello Naked Scientists,

My name is Chris and I'm a biology student from California in the U.S.  I was just listening to your newbielink:http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/podcasts/ [nonactive] from a couple of weeks ago, and you spoke about bio fuel agriculture being a possible contributor to dead zones in the ocean due to agricultural runnoff. 

I heard recently in my marine biology class about possibly creating biofuels using giant kelp instead of your more conventional crops like corn. 

I was wondering if this may be a way to contribute to oxygen levels in the sea while simultaneously creating a sustainable energy source for us humans?

Seeing as some of California's kelp forests are capable of growing more than 2 feet a day under good conditions, would this be a way for us to have our cake and eat it too? 

Any feedback would be appreciated.

What do you think?


 

Offline Karsten

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #1 on: 11/10/2009 15:30:22 »
It might help, but I have a very difficult time to imagine that bio fuels will allow Americans, Europeans, and Australians to keep consuming energy as they do now. And that is not even speaking of countries like China or India who have large populations and would like to consume energy at a much higher level as well.

And I would like to see numbers that talk about how much energy is required to transform kelp into bio fuels. Including the machines and maintenance of those machines to harvest the stuff.

It could be a drop in the bucket. A very, very large bucket.

Maybe we should not worry about the drops, but rather the size of the bucket.
 

Offline Don_1

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #2 on: 13/10/2009 10:37:20 »
I agree fully with Karsten.

Even if kelp could be viable, the fact that we are already growing terrestrial crops for bio fuels is bad enough. The impact of these crops on wildlife is devastating. We need to reduce our fuel consumption, not look for new areas to increase the supply.

The oceans are our greatest ally in the battle against rising CO2 levels, we tamper with the oceans at our (and all other species) peril.
 

Offline that mad man

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #3 on: 13/10/2009 19:45:28 »
I think "bio-fuels" is one of those recent buzzwords that people like to use for impact. The fact is that we have already been using bio-fuel for a long time but we would rather call it vegetable oil as it sounds better. Millions of litres are consumed every day and yet we seem to forget that this is also made from foodstuff. Corn oil being the most popular and used in most takeaways and burger joints. Dedicated bio-fuel for power generation is small in comparison. If we were concerned about the shortage of food then we should also reduce our consumption of vegetable oils as well.

I agree though it would be good to use an unused source for oil.
 

Offline litespeed

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #4 on: 04/11/2009 21:04:41 »
that mad man  - You wrote: "I think "bio-fuels" is one of those recent buzzwords that people like to use for impact."

Yeah, it is one of the favorite buzzwords buzzing about the various Chicken Littles both for and con. Specifically, the Green Guys have been pushing bio-fuels for decades. Not satisfied they had killed off nuclear energy, thus putting several thousand fossil fuel plants in operation, they decided ethanol was a good (subsidized) investment.

The bio-fuel industry has several components. First, it diverts a massive amount of American food corn to ethanol. A couple of years ago that alone seems to have led to enough food shortage that it led to massive food riots in some poor nations.

In addition, European demand for bio fuels has led to gigantic rain forest clearing in the far east to make way for Palm Oil monoculture plantations.  European Green Guys find this to be a mortal sin for two reasons. First, the very idea of replacing rain forest diversity with monoculture palm oil gives them hives. Second, these plantation displace indigenous populations, many of which do not have legal title to the land.

There is hope, however, concerning your Kelp Beds.  Specifically, advances in fermentation may be close to converting the entire corn stalk to ethanol, not just the corn. If that is true, then any sort of woody product can be fermented. Saw grass is the one I hear most about. If true, this sort of ethanol production could be viable eneuable energy.  Just be warry of whatever the latest Green Guys have to offer. History shows they have heavy feet and leave large damaging footprints just about anyplace they go.

 

Offline Karsten

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #5 on: 05/11/2009 01:26:33 »
There is hope, however, concerning your Kelp Beds.  Specifically, advances in fermentation may be close to converting the entire corn stalk to ethanol, not just the corn. If that is true, then any sort of woody product can be fermented. Saw grass is the one I hear most about. If true, this sort of ethanol production could be viable eneuable energy.  Just be warry of whatever the latest Green Guys have to offer. History shows they have heavy feet and leave large damaging footprints just about anyplace they go.

Hmmm, you offer hope that an alternative, renewable fuel may help solve some of our energy concerns. Are you one of those Green Guys I have been warned about?
 

Offline Don_1

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #6 on: 05/11/2009 09:05:43 »
We are not running out of mineral oil. As JimBob has made us aware, on several occasions on other threads, these 'exhausted' oil fields still have plenty of oil left in them, it is just that it is not economically viable to extract it.

So now some 'green guys' are looking at new ways to produce vegetable oils which we can use in place of the mineral oil we have become so dependant on. The trouble is, they are simply attempting to solve one problem by creating another.

Huge swathes of tropical rain forest have already been destroyed to make way for the production of Palm oil, yet the amount produced comes nowhere even remotely close to the production which would be required to satisfy the demand in the USA alone. The UK would require over 38,000 sq kilometers of palm oil production to supply its oil requirements.

As it is, rainforests cover less than 2% of the Earths surface, yet they are home to more than 50% of the total number of the world's species. Turning these forests into bio-oil production will create more problems than it solves.

We now know that the oceans are our greatest CO2 conversion plants. Turning huge areas to kelp production, then harvesting it, could do immense damage to the eco system. We have already done enough damage to our oceans.

Over fishing in the North Sea brought the cod close to extinction and rising sea temperatures are driving their food futher north. Many whales have been hunted to the point of near extinction. Seahorses taken for Chinese medicine has resulted in the extinction of some species and left others on the brink. Over 50% of sharks are threatened with extinction. In some areas the lack, or total loss, of sharks has lead to an increase in smaller predators, such as jellyfish. Some seas are so overpopulated with these small predators, that many other species are now threatened.

Have we not caused enough damage as it is? We should not be looking for means to replace mineral oil, we should be looking for ways to reduce our dependence upon it.
 

Offline peppercorn

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #7 on: 05/11/2009 14:13:45 »
Green Guys have been pushing bio-fuels for decades. Not satisfied they had killed off nuclear energy, thus putting several thousand fossil fuel plants in operation, they decided ethanol was a good (subsidized) investment.
Ironically, it was not the green movement that did for nuclear power in the past decades it was the major nuclear accidents that changed public opinion.
Most (informed & unbiased) green campaigners always viewed the US corn-ethanol policies with utmost suspicion - recognising it as rural vote-winning propaganda dressed up with green credentials.

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There is hope, however, concerning your Kelp Beds.  Specifically, advances in fermentation may be close to converting the entire corn stalk to ethanol, not just the corn. If that is true, then any sort of woody product can be fermented.
The key point that your valid statement supports is that bio-fuels should only ever be derived from biomass wastes (with the definition of waste always effectively scrutinised).  This said there is little doubt that biomass fuels can only plug a tiny hole in our current demands.

We simply have re-educate ourselves to much lower energy expectations.

Quote
Just be warry of whatever the latest Green Guys have to offer. History shows they have heavy feet and leave large damaging footprints just about anyplace they go.
No. Be wary of politicians and marketeers with their 'green wash' slogans.
« Last Edit: 05/11/2009 14:16:25 by peppercorn »
 

Offline litespeed

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
« Reply #8 on: 07/11/2009 15:31:43 »
Pepper - You wrote: "We simply have re-educate ourselves to much lower energy expectations."

I believe alternative fuels will be enough. Japan and much of Europe is going Nuke. Our national distaste for Nukes is sort of sad. There is an upside however.  For instance, Texas already gets three or fout percent of its entire grid capacity from wind. {This last figure is not verified]. They are sprouting up all over West Texas like dandilions! The electricity is priced at natural gas prices.

The advantage to wind is that capital investment is incrimental, and shows almost immediate production. Thats the biggest difference between our approach and European Nukes that require huge amounts of capital that will not be generating anything for a decade or more.

I have found the following information usefull. "...As a result, the growth in U.S. wind power for 2009 as a whole is expected to fall short of last year, when a record 8,358 MW was installed. So far this year, 5,800 MW of wind power has been built, bringing the country's total wind power capacity to 31,109 MW." http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/news/news_detail.cfm/news_id=15563

There is controversy, however, as to how much total installed capacity is available at any one time. I have seen numbers as low as 10%.  This fugure sounds suspicious to me. About a year ago I drove through West Texas and noticed a few things.  Almost all of the hundreds of windmills I saw were turning in perfect unison.

I think each one can power the equivalent of about 100 - 200 homes at utilization availability of about 30% of total installed capacity. I actually counted the windmills turning and not turnning and came with at least 90% seemingly operational.

And I drove up to one of them. JEEEZE they are big and powerfull!  Further, the wind at ground level was very fast and very constant. Uncomfortably so.   And their ground footprint seemed close to negligible in the cotton field were I found it.

Windpower storage could be an issue since they rely on sometimes unreliable wind. Some hydro projects use excess capacity at night to pump watter back up into a storage caverns where it can be released during peak capacity times later.

« Last Edit: 07/11/2009 16:13:41 by litespeed »
 

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Would kelp be a viable crop for biofuel?
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