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Biofuel

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Europe to turn Africans into fuel

After discovering the disastrous consequences of turning its own food crops into fuel, China has turned to cassava -- mostly from southeast Asia -- as a source for biofuels. Europe, meanwhile, is buying up tracts of "marginal land" in Africa in order to grow jatropha for biofuels. In the U.S., of course, it's corn for ethanol. The developed world's modest proposal is this: Take calories that might otherwise have gone to feed humans or their livestock, and turn them into energy to fuel our motor vehicles instead. In theory, say advocates of biofuel, next-generation fuels will be made from crops …

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Obama to reduce oil imports by a third via magic

Obama's energy speech today promises to be mostly a re-hash of previous administration announcements regarding efforts to make America more energy independent, but at least one bombshell has already been leaked by the White House: Obama wants to reduce America's oil imports by a third in 10 years. It's hard to think of anything -- short of an economic crash bigger than any ever seen in U.S. history, or perhaps an alien race forcing all of us to take to our bicycles -- that could conceivably accomplish such a goal. The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects that we will import …

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Obama’s energy security plan lacks imagination, ambition, stones

[UPDATE: Obama has delivered the speech. It was indeed weak-ass and deserving of an overall thumbs down, but there are more complexities to be analyzed, which I'll get into in a subsequent post.] Today, President Obama will deliver an address at Georgetown University on the subject of energy security. This is, potentially at least, an incredibly rich subject area. It is littered with facts and trends that few Americans understand. Framed properly, it could help voters re-imagine America's place in a resource-constrained, climate-heated world. It could help lay the foundation for cross-cutting and unconventional political coalitions centered around military readiness …

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Achtung! German Motorists Boycott Ethanol

The German government's plan to follow our lead and force a ten percent blend of ethanol down its citizen's throats has hit a snag. Unlike here in the States, German consumers can choose to buy gasoline without ethanol in it. So, that's what they're doing even though it costs more! I took the above photo with my cell phone while filling up our Prius. Your elected politicians are forcing you to fuel your car with food. Why aren't you morally outraged?   Refiners and gas stations are sitting on full tanks of unsold Super E10. On the other hand, there …

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Serious sh*t

California going to sh*t — for green electricity

This is an opportunity we want to go down the drain.Recession-wracked California is truly going down the toilet. For green energy, that is. In a gift to headline writers everywhere, the California Energy Commission on Wednesday handed out nearly $1 million to fund an experimental project to convert what it politely refers to as "biosolids" into electricity. In other words, sh*t. Okay, we'll suppress our inner 12-year-old boy now. This is serious sh*t. No, really, we'll stop. Biosolids are a nasty pollution problem; beyond human waste, they can also include a sludge of heavy metals and other toxins left over …

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Afghan-produced biofuels could be one good thing to come out of the war

In a larger sense, nobody wins in the war in Afghanistan. But Marine sergeant Brian Nelson is hoping that in one particular instance -- encouraging Afghans to convert some of their crops to biofuel -- everyone can win. Marines win because they can help meet their alternative energy goals. They want to cut fuel usage by half in the next 14 years, because fuel runs are unusually vulnerable to attack. (Perhaps preferable: Not f*cking being at war in 14 years. But I digress.) Afghans win because instead of opium poppies -- which have put money in the hands of insurgents …

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Country cousins and city cousins

It’s the ‘burbs, stupid: on the Ezra Klein/Tom Vilsack dustup

Carried away: Ezra Klein and Tom Vilsack ride an imaginary "raft of subsidies." This week, an interesting -- and, I think, bizarre -- argument broke out between Washington Post political blogger Ezra Klein and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. The topic was whether rural residents deserve what Klein called a "raft of subsidies," when in fact, "we still need cities." Klein's contributions to the debate were widely hailed as "brilliant" and Vilsack's were widely deplored (see here and here); but I was left wondering what precisely the two were arguing about -- and whether either one of them actually knew what …

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Berry patch

USDA chief flatters industrial ag while Obama honors its greatest critic, Wendell Berry

A year and a half ago, I complained that President Obama's food and ag policy was "giving me whiplash," because the administration seemed to keep zigzagging between progressive change and the agrichemical status quo.   Since then, a definite pattern has emerged: The administration puts real policy power behind the status quo -- see, for example, the recent deregulation of controversial genetically modified crops -- and deploys what the political scientists call "soft power" (usually through Michelle Obama) to hector people to eat a little better and chide corporations to clean up their junk food a bit. Two events last …

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soda gives you gas

Why it’s a good idea to put sugar water in your gas tank

Photo: Alexander KaiserWouldn't it be awesome if we could solve our waste problem and our fuel problem simultaneously, by turning one into the other? Okay, we're nowhere near the stage where you can just scrape your plate into your car, but there are an increasing number of procedures for turning useless crap into fuel. Most recently, students at Oklahoma State University devised a way to turn waste soda into ethanol. The basic operation is pretty simple. The students used samples of Pepsi, Coke, Sprite and Mountain Dew, to which they added a standard distiller's yeast along with extra nutrients. With …

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no rain, no grain

The world is one poor harvest away from chaos

An Indian woman sifts grain from a previous harvest. Water shortages could drastically affect this year's harvest.Photo: World BankIn early January, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that its Food Price Index had reached an all-time high in December, exceeding the previous record set during the 2007-08 price surge. Even more alarming, on Feb. 3, the FAO announced that the December record had been broken in January as prices climbed an additional 3 percent. Will this rise in food prices continue in the months ahead? In all likelihood, we will see further rises that will take the world …