Friday, October 20, 2006

Water Scarcity And Biofuel

I am against ethanol as an alternate energy source. I have always been against it because it takes more energy to make it than it saves using it. It also uses corn which is a very water intensive crop, and in this age of drought and a soaring population that will need water resources to sustain itself it is neither ethically nor economically feasible in the longrun to continue to push ethanol as the savior alternate energy source.

But it is then no wonder that the U.S. government is subsidizing this to the tune of 3 billion dollars to corporations who mix it with gasoline to keep the oil companies in play. That while 40 million Americans are without healthcare, millions more slip into poverty every year, and our world also gets closer to that ten year window on our environment closing.

And the process of fermenting ethanol is a big water waster. In the fermentation process of ethanol you have 8% ethanol and 92% water that must be distilled and separated before the product is made. To my knowledge I have read nothing thus far that relays what is done with that water once it is distilled from the corn in the fermentation process (as the illustration above fails to show as well,) but I would think it could and should be reprocessed in some way to be of use in the growing of crops that people can use to eat. Any research on that will of course be posted here as I find the information.

In the following article this position regarding water scarcity and biofuel is also shared by Fred Pierce, author of:

"When The Rivers Run Dry":

Water Scarcity Seen Dampening Case For Biofuel
By David Brough
Thu Oct 19, 11:30 AM ET

GENEVA (Reuters) - Water scarcity harms the case for using food crops to make biofuels, a leading environmental author and journalist said on Thursday.

"The downside of growing food for fuel is water," said Fred Pearce, author of the book "When the Rivers Run Dry."

Surging crude oil prices have strengthened the argument for green energy created by cultivating food crops such as sugar cane to make ethanol fuel and vegetable oils to make biodiesel.

The politics of water will become critical as demand for water from rising populations and the needs of industry increase, said Pearce, editor of Britain's New Scientist magazine.

About one billion people lack access to clean drinking water, Pearce said in a keynote speech to the two-day Sugaronline conference in Geneva.

Vast quantities of water were needed to cultivate crops, with two-thirds of the world's water used in agriculture, Pearce said.

"Sugar is one of the thirstiest crops in the world," he said, estimating that 600-800 tonnes of water were required to grow one tonne of cane.

Brazil, the world's biggest sugar producer, has a thriving biofuels industry, converting about half its cane into fuel ethanol to power vehicles.

Pearce said the booming sugar business aimed at powering cars for the affluent had become a key component in water politics because of concerns over water scarcity.

In the past 30 years world food production had doubled to meet food demand from a growing population, but the amount of water used had tripled.

Part of the answer was to boost the efficiency of irrigation infrastructure.

"You can't irrigate the world's ethanol needs without huge gains in irrigation efficiency," Pearce said.

The Sugaronline conference ended on Thursday.
Also See:

David Pimental, a leading Cornell University agricultural expert, has calculated that powering the average U.S. automobile for one year on ethanol (blended with gasoline) derived from corn would require 11 acres of farmland, the same space needed to grow a year's supply of food for seven people. Adding up the energy costs of corn production and its conversion into ethanol, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. Thus, 70 percent more energy is required to produce ethanol than the energy that actually is in it. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs.

Mr. Pimentel concluded that "abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuels amounts to unsustainable subsidized food burning".

Neither increases in government subsidies to corn-based ethanol fuel nor hikes in the price of petroleum can overcome what Cornell University agricultural scientist, David Pimentel, calls a fundamental input-yield problem: It takes more energy to make ethanol from grain than the combustion of ethanol produces.

At a time when ethanol-gasoline mixtures (gasohol) are touted as the American answer to fossil fuel shortages by corn producers, food processors and some lawmakers, Cornell’s David Pimentel, one of the world’s leading experts in issues relating to energy and agriculture, takes a longer range view.

"Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable, subsidized food burning", says the Cornell professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Pimentel, who chaired a U.S. Department of Energy panel that investigated the energetics, economics and environmental aspects of ethanol production several years ago, subsequently conducted a detailed analysis of the corn-to-car fuel process. His findings are published in the September, 2001 issue of the Encyclopedia of Physical Sciences and Technology.

Among his findings are:
Ethanol Fuel from Corn Faulted as ‘Unsustainable Subsidized Food Burning"
There are more efficient ways to sustain our planet and in the process also save water which is our most precious natural resource. Hopefully, the ethanol process can either be refined to save water and streamline the fermentation process wherein less energy is used to produce it. Otherwise, it is a wasteful fruitless exercise only meant to be used as a political wedge issue to bring profits to corporations beholding to the government not the people.

For my money solar energy is the only answer and one that does not use water in the process of it's production, and it needs to be pursued much more vigorously by the United States. The 21st Century is one where innovation and technology can lead us to a brighter and more productive future, but only if we take into account the moral and ethical codes that have existed for all times that must guide our choices. And we must not allow governments such as our own to use this crisis to exploit this issue for their own gain.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Kansas Aquifer Going Dry

The bottomline to this is the same as in many parts of the world. Humans overusing the water for economic gain not thinking of the future, and in the end having nothing. Excessive fines will either have to be imposed for overusing the water from the aquifer, or a way to import water from parts of the aquifer that have more water will have to be explored if possible but then again that gets people into battles over water rights. Another option could be to grow less water intensive crops combined with lessened growing of corn in order to conserve water.

Also, better water mangement to reuse irrigated water along with dry land irrigation and perhaps even introducing drip irrigation could be possible solutions to be put forth, but something has to be done soon. And of course, the fact that water is not seen as a viable issue to be discussed in a campaign because it is not a vote getter is tragic. Water is an issue that sustains our lives. How much more important can an issue be?

This isn't going to go away, and it isn't going to be remedied by replacement of water to the aquifer in large enough quantities to bring it back unless the required rainfall comes to Kansas and other areas, and in that case it would flood. Here we see many factors coming together. Human activity as far as waste and inefficient management of water resources, and climate change leading also to drought which brings inadequate rainfall to replace what has been used by the farmers.

And it will be hard to wean farmers off of growing corn or even halving their harvest which not only is a staple throughout he world, but is also their main cash crop. Again, balancing common sense practices with economic benefit seems to be becoming the hardest part of this crisis. And with the population reaching 300 million, there will also be more mouths to feed. I wonder as well what effect this will also have on the ethanol industry, as ethanol is made from corn, and corn is a very water intensive crop.

There will be updates to this as I find them.

Water Crisis Needs Attention

Water crisis demands attention
By Scott Rothschild (Contact)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Beneath the soil of landlocked Kansas lies a vast, life-sustaining source of water called the High Plains aquifer. Formed millions of years ago, the aquifer — also referred to as the Ogallala — underlies an area of 174,000 square miles in parts of eight states, including most of western Kansas.

Since the 1940s, farmers have ferociously pumped the aquifer to produce food for a hungry nation and world. An estimated 15 million acre-feet of water per year are withdrawn for irrigation. One acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons, or the amount it would take to cover an acre of land with one foot of water.

Now, in some areas of western Kansas, the aquifer has been sucked dry or is close to it, and farmers are shutting down wells. The effect of draining the source of water that grows a major portion of the nation’s crops has seismic repercussions.

“It’s a big, complex problem,” said Susan Stover, manager of the High Plains unit at the Kansas Water Office. “There will need to be a lot of changes. We can’t have near the amount of irrigated corn and alfalfa that we have. We don’t have the water.

Farmer Bill Spillman, viewed through the front window of a grain hauler driven by his employee Richard Rachel, heads into the fields to cut corn last Friday in Hoxie. Spillman uses both irrigation and dry-land farming methods. “The bottom line is, if everything was sustainable, we wouldn’t be tinkering with it,” she said.

Competing forces

It’s a simple equation. Agriculture is drawing more water from the aquifer than percolates back down through rainfall and runoff. The water table drops lower, making it impossible or financially impractical to pump water from below. The issue is made even more difficult because of the current seven-year drought and because some areas of the aquifer are nearly depleted while others have enough water for generations of irrigation.

More at the link
High Plains Aquifer Information

Water level changes in High Plains Aquifer from 1980-2002

USGS Image And Information

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Water Policy Around The World

Fantastic, useful, educational, and important program.

Water Policy Around The World

Talk of the Nation, October 13, 2006 · Increased demand for water around the world means that some sources are running dry, leaving areas without enough fresh water. More affluent areas are turning to untapped sources of water including desalination and creative reuse or recycling of existing water sources.


Brent Haddad, associate professor of environmental studies, University of California

Sandra Postel, visiting senior lecturer in environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College, director of the Global Water Policy Project

Jerry Maxwell, general manager, Tampa Bay Water

Humanitarian Disaster in the Sahara

Algeria has stranded 13,000 migrants in the Sahara forcing them to walk across it in response to EU directive to North Africa to lessen mi...