Biofuels and Manure

The biofuel discussion vaguely reminds me of the “biosolids” debate. In the attempt to make the spreading of municipal waste on agricultural land sound more palatable, the sludge was renamed “biosolids” (There is a great little book detailing this story and similar attempts at PR misinformation: Toxic Sludge is Good For You).

There is nothing this insiduous in this article from the PS today, Cortland farmers urged to go green (Post-Standard. March 11, 2007. Rebecca James).

State, local and regional agricultural administrators and educators are pushing farmers in Cortland and elsewhere to get more involved in creative approaches to energy. A conference in Cortland last month encouraged farmers to consider both renewable energy approaches on their farms and to consider growing crops for emerging biofuel markets.

So far, no Cortland County farms have been among the 35 grants made through the Renewable Energy and Efficiency Grant program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office.

But this is where the biofuel alternative gets fuzzy in my opinion. Agriculture is in itself a fairly energy intensive activity; it takes fuel to grow (bio)fuel. According to one USDA study, “it takes 77,228 BTUs of fossil fuel inputs to make 83,961 BTUs of “green, renewable” ethanol.”

The real importance of methane digestors and similar technologies is in providing economic and ecologically sound alternatives of disposing of waste; e.g. manure that otherwise may find its way into our surface and ground waters.

But it remains to be seen if biofuels as a whole are a real, viable alternative to fossil fuels.

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