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Accelerated Evolution

biofuels: burning perfectly good food


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The western appetite for biofuels is causing starvation in the poor world

t doesn't get madder than this. Swaziland is in the grip of a famine and receiving emergency food aid. Forty per cent of its people are facing acute food shortages. So what has the government decided to export? Biofuel made from one of its staple crops, cassava. The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the district of Lavumisa, which happens to be the place worst hit by drought.

Madness.

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they don't throw enough used cooking oil away that everyone could use it.

oil market

The US production of fats and oils is set to rise annually by a slight 0.8 per cent, from 11.8 million metric tons in 2003 to 12.3 million metric tons in 2008, according to analysts Business Communications Company.

(noting that many of the oils so mentioned aren't soybean oil, but over all that is of little practical value. Also ignoring oil as an ingredient, oils used in other processes, or oils absorbed in deep frying)

soybean oil has a density of 0.92 g/cm3

12.3 million metric tons is 1.23 × 10^13 grams

which gives you 11316 x 10^13 cm3

which is 2,989,370,930 gallons.. slightly less than 3 billion gallons.

the us presently consumes 140 billion gallons of gasoline a year.

now, I'm not saying it's bad to burn used oil, in engines or industry. It's good. Way better than most other things you might do with it, in fact. I'm all for reclaiming unused energy. But I would note it's unrealistic to hope that the industry will grow by 50 times. There simply isn't that much more land/water. Not all of those 3 billion gallons of oil are being used to deep fry shit, supply and demand will kick in, getting it for free will disappear when people start offering to pay for it, and pretty soon - because the supply is very limited compared to gasoline, the market price for used oil from deep fryers will pass the cost of gasoline. Ah, but keep converting your cars, as long as you don't increase the demand for pure veritable oil you'll reduce the cost of my french fries. Win-win.

I guess we could also compare the energy density and efficiency differences between diesel and gasoline engines, but, err, those differences won't even come close to covering the different between the total supply and the total potential demand.

anyway, cheers.

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Yeah, because god knows this won't, like, make them money or anything, which they could conceivably use to buy food.

I'm not trying to argue with you, but wouldn't money only be valuable in a healthy economy, where food is available at fair prices and buying it supports local citizens? The land used by local farmers to support the people is now supporting Western technology. Probably one of the main sources of food if this system continues would be Western "aid", which is largely dependent on what we have a surplus of, and makes it impossible even for farmers that wanted to to stay financially stable selling food to their own people.

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Yes, it is wierd.

That said, what's the better option? I'm assuming that this course of action is being taken for a reason. Also, we waste a lot of food anyway, at least this is doing something.

Now, I'm all for using alternative fuels, but we do have some issues with food and probably should look at better options.

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I'm not trying to argue with you, but wouldn't money only be valuable in a healthy economy, where food is available at fair prices and buying it supports local citizens? The land used by local farmers to support the people is now supporting Western technology. Probably one of the main sources of food if this system continues would be Western "aid", which is largely dependent on what we have a surplus of, and makes it impossible even for farmers that wanted to to stay financially stable selling food to their own people.

Oh yes, I'm aware that using another form of Imperialism isn't going to help solve the problem of Imperialism.

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The key issue I had in all of it, I think, besides my general suspicion over the economy of turning food into fuel (there is a substantial energy use that goes into doing so, leaving aside land and water use issues in a country already having problems with over grazing and soil erosion is this key passage:

The government has allocated several thousand hectares of farmland to ethanol production in the district of Lavumisa

I think China, Cuba, North Korea, and the USSR has offered more an adequate proof that governments aren't really overly good at managing agriculture.

wz-map.gif

quoting from the CIA World Factbook

Autonomy for the Swazis of southern Africa was guaranteed by the British in the late 19th century; independence was granted in 1968. Student and labor unrest during the 1990s pressured King MSWATI III, the world's last ruling monarch, to grudgingly allow political reform and greater democracy, although he has backslid on these promises in recent years.

I made an organizational chart of their government. I left out the Judicial.. but it's just appointed by the king.

govmnt.png

as you can see, the people's voice is notably small.

average cassava output averages 30 tons/year/ha. The article only states several thousand hectares, we'll go with 18, since the math is already done.

if that much, 185,000 ton per year ethanol plant would generate US $230,192,001 at current market prices (assuming no math errors.) Which, admittedly, is nothing to sneeze at. (Assuming that the estimate is neither too high nor too low, which is indeterminate from the only source I currently have) it's worth $0.55 per day per person in the country. Since the poor apparently live on around $1 a day, this is somewhat meaningful if it is actually for the people, and not perpetuating King Mswati III's $200,000,000 fortune. It's probably a little from column a, a little from column b.

King Mswati III of Swaziland, with a net worth of US$200 million (CDN$211.7 million). Almost every year, he chooses a new bride from among 20,000 naked bare-breasted virgins; so far, he has 13 wives and is building a palace for each.

Well, I can get behind the bare-breasted bit, at least.

I would also like to note that both it's people and press have immense freedoms.

18,000 hectares is 69.4 square miles, which is only around 1% of the country.. of course, the country has only 10.25% arable land, which means that it probably ranges between 1% and 10% of the total usable land (assuming thousands of hectares is at least two. 407,000 people will need food aid this year because of poor maize harvest - around "40,000 tons of food assistance will be required to fill the cereal gap" and "the price of maize has already increased significantly (almost 90% from January to April)".

you can grow between two and four tons of corn per hectare. if they're using 18K acres for ethanol it could instead be producing between 18,000 tons and 40,000 tons- if 40, that's self sufficiency right there. Aid more or less never leads to a healthy country, unless the aid is in loans- even ones with low or not interest- that eventually get paid back.

From what I've seen leaving aside the drought conditions their productivity comes down to an absurdly high rate of aids infection (although I've seen an African economist who flat out stated he believed that most governments inflated the figure because it equaled free money, I neither agree nor disagree) a fairly large part of it comes down to slipping away from modern farming methods:

Up until 2000, Swaziland was routinely harvesting over 100,000 tons of maize but since then the average has dropped to around 70,000 tons – still three times larger than the current harvest.

1/3 of 70,000 is 23,333 tons- a quarter of what used to be normal. I think money on food aid is misspent. if it be efficient irrigation methods assistance in getting modern farm equipment, fuel/mechanical aid, countries such as Zimbabwe that used to be called Africa's bread basket could be so named again.

also with a bankruptcy court judge's firm eye aimed at eliminating local and governmental corruption, but that's neither here nor there.

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I think China, Cuba, North Korea, and the USSR has offered more an adequate proof that governments aren't really overly good at managing agriculture.

granted i hate the idea of government, but you chose the absolute worst governments for your example. Of course they're going to have horrible control over agriculture, they're horrible forms of government in about every aspect.

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I was thinking about this discussion the other day while I was walking past a gas station here in Olympia that sells biodiesel.

It occurred to me that the point of biodiesel isn't price, availability, or efficiency, but rather renewability. Just throwing that out there. I agree that what's going on here in Swaziland is stupid, and I'm not exactly a big fan of biodiesel (though it does interest me -- at least, the idea of being able to make my own gas interests me, and my buddy Mad Max), but I don't think we should write off the entire pursuit of having it become more adopted.

My problem with alternative fuel sources, though, be they biodiesel or hydrogen cells or whatever, is that none of them address the root of the problem, which is that the world just uses insane amounts of fuel.

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I think the clear and obvious solution to all of the world's energy problems can be summed up in two words:

Dyson sphere.

Well yes, but the operative problem is how are we going to get all the energy to build one in the first place?!

Religious people wait for the second coming, revolutionaries wait for the revolution, and scientists wait for the singularity shift...

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