Thrown off the grass

Americans consume 140 billion gallons of gasoline a year.
That will grow to 161 billion gallons by 2017 without change.

It may be we are prematurely trumpeting biofuel. The facts are slowly becoming clear, and doubts remain.

Without sugar crops, the USA is increasing starch crops – corn – which may place serious inflationary pressures on feed and food, threatening our precarious dollar. But we cross our fingers by promoting hi-tech and emerging research that may brew fuel from a greater variety of plant material, such as grass.

The Des Moine Register agrees that

“Making ethanol from something other than corn, such as crop residue or switchgrass, would lessen climate change.”


“Harvesting, storing and trucking massive amounts of non-corn biomass could make it uneconomical to make ethanol from other sources such as stover — stalks, husks, cobs — left after corn is harvested.

and another but,

“Some Iowa farmers already know what it takes to grow crops like switchgrass for energy, one of our hoped trump cards, and their experience raises questions about the feasibility of turning biomass into motor fuel.”


Switchgrass costs nearly twice as much as corn

corn: $35 per ton
switchgrass: $60 a ton
plus it costs another $25 for storage and transportation costs,
and then farmers will need an additional $30 to $40 a ton in profit to make it worth their while


Sugar cane is ideal for making ethanol and has a long history in Hawai’i, but it is an especially thirsty plant.

It takes as much water to grow 10,000 acres of sugar cane as it does to keep 67 golf courses green.

Experts estimate Hawai’i will need to increase sugar cane acreage by more than 80,000 acres by 2020 to meet local demands for ethanol. To quench Hawai’i’s thirst for ethanol, the state’s sugar cane industry would need to at least triple in size…

Hawai’i’s large landowners abandoned sugar cane in the past two decades. As they exited the business, the water previously used to irrigate their fields was diverted to other purposes.

Returning that water to the fields will likely draw opposition.

Growers are nervous if they don’t have a long-term contract on water…
If you can’t get water to crops, you’re dead in the water…
This is a huge issue that has barely touched the surface…

Next year’s headlines will mark an era of water wars. – Hydrodomus 2007