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February 26, 2008

Downright Nutty: Jumbo Jet Biofuel

Biofuel When I first read this Reuters piece about a Virgin Airline jumbo jet flying from London to Amsterdam on Amazon rain forest nuts for fuel, I smiled and took note that England isn't that far from the Netherlands. In short, it wasn't that huge of a test for such a nutty idea. And just to be on the safe side, the biofuel constituted only 25 percent of the total fuel mixture.

Then I thought, "Well, maybe chic suburbanites like Prison Fellowship's Communications Director, David Carlson, would feel cleansed by riding on such an aircraft." David has one of those Toyota hybrid cars: a Prius, Yaris, or Spartacus...whatever. He loves it, of course. 50 mpg or more. And I do have to admit to its having surprising room in the back seat when he takes a bunch of us to lunch.

But how can a machine as huge and powerthirsty as a JUMBO JET fly on Amazon nuts?

Somehow, it does, and it doesn't take long to figure out that many South American farmers would benefit from such an arrangement with other airlines, just as corn farmers in America now have more reliable markets for ethanol. A renewable resource like this makes not just a cleaner means of transportation for enviros like Dave but could put food on the table for farmers across the world. It all sounds almost like a godly idea or something.

If it works, what's not to like? Especially if we run out of oil someday.

(Image © Reuters)

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Samuel X

"Just as corn farmers in America now have more reliable markets for ethanol."
...Well, except for the part where the US craving for biofuel has been funding a famine in Mexico because corn farmers can get more money farming for ethanol than tortillas.

Don't know if the same would hold for Amazon nuts, though.

Dennis Babish

Since the airlines no longer give out nuts they had to do something with them. :D

Dave the Swede

Dave the Swede has been called out. Dave the Swede responds: Yeah, I drive a Prius. Yes, I like the environment. I think it's worth preserving. But I'm not that nutty about biofuels. I'd ask Roberto to weigh in here, but I don't see the value in taking so much arable land out of food production and putting it toward fuel production. Food prices are soaring, and certainly a reduction in food supplies is partly to blame: http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/12/17/europe/food.php
Roberto, feel free to add your two cents.


Corn is also a bad crop to be making mass quantities of ethanol from. you only get about a 25% return from the energy you put into making corn ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol made from other crops, such as switchgrass, show a promising 540% return! One field of switchgrass would yield more ethanol than 20 fields of corn.

A switch to switchgrass (no pun intended) for ethanol production will free up lots of land for growing food and bring those inflated food costs back down.

If corn ethanol is so great why does it need to be massively subsidized by the US government?

Roberto Rivera

There's a place for bio-fuels but corn-based ethanol isn't one of them.
For starters, using corn has an effect on food prices. Poor Mexicans have protested what they call the "ethanol tax" that has raised the cost of the staple food: tortillas. Eventually, some of these poor Mexicans, unable to afford food, may find their way across the border.

It's not just Mexico: food prices are rising here in the USA and around the world. Do we really want to devote a staple food crop to powering our cars.

This is especially true because there's a much better alternative: ethanol from sugar. To quote a Washington Post article: "In Brazil, ethanol made from sugar cane produces about twice as much ethanol per acre as corn." And the ethnaol is made from cane residue, not the edible part.

Thanks to sugar-derived ethanol, Brazil is energy independent. (Having a lot fewer cars than the U.S. doesn't hurt, either.) So, why don't we import cheaper, more efficient, Brazilian ethanol? Do you have to ask? Iowa is the first caucus.

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