Tuesday, November 25, 2008

How Dean Kamen's Magical Water Machine Could Save the World

This IS different than the below article, and EVERYONE should read it (the original article). It is fascinating.

The "sling" is Lord Dumpling's revolutionary new version of the Stirling engine, a no-emission power source that engineers have been trying to perfect for almost two hundred years. Instead of the tiny explosions that drive the pistons of a standard internal-combustion engine, the Stirling drives its piston by forcing gas from one chamber to another in a perfectly closed system. He's pretty much got it nailed, aside from a few tweaks and a few niggling questions about who will pay for it. The "shot" is his equally revolutionary vapor-compression water distiller, which can make pure medicinal-grade water out of anything that's wet, even urine or toxic waste -- water so clean you could inject it into your arm. Together, the sling and the shot could save millions of lives. That's why he spent $50 million of his own money developing the prototypes and testing them in Third World villages, and they work, and we have to get the word out because 50 percent of all human illness is caused by waterborne pathogens.

He really can't. There's just too much he wants to do. When he proved that FIRST worked, he was sure it would be in every school in the country the next year. Same with the Segway. It's 100 percent more efficient than cars, those metal boxes designed for the open road when 50 percent of the people alive live in cities. It's just stupid. It's lunacy. And someday, the Slingshot will go into production, too. And one of the kids from FIRST will win the Nobel prize or cure cancer. But it takes time for an innovation to become a commodity. Because the Wright brothers flew a plane and it was a long time before frequent-flier miles. You have to be patient, give the world time to catch up.

Entire Article: http://www.esquire.com/features/dean-kamen-1208



Water Out of Thin Air

Element Four has developed a machine that it hopes will become the first mainstream household appliance to have been invented since the microwave. Their creation, the WaterMill, uses the electricity of about three light bulbs to condense moisture from the air and purify it into clean drinking water.

It works by drawing air through filters to remove dust and particles, then cooling it to just below the temperature at which dew forms. The condensed water is passed through a self-sterilising chamber that uses microbe-busting UV light to eradicate any possibility of Legionnaires' disease or other infections. Finally, it is filtered and passed through a pipe to the owner's fridge or kitchen tap.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/nov/23/water-mill-eco-invention



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Proposed Recycling Survey

Here is the recycling survey that I have drafted and hope to send to students living in the residence halls in the next couple of weeks. Right now the main objective of the survey is to assess how many residents want an all-hall recycling program and if they would be willing to pay for one. The survey would go out to about 500 randomly selected residents. Please leave comments with suggestions about how to rephrase questions currently on the survey (they need to be unbiased), about adding additional questions, or if you think any are irrelevant and should be removed.

Axio Survey

Residence Hall Recycling Survey

Survey Description
This survey is being conducted by Students for Environmental Action to assess the current level of recycling and waste output in the residence halls as well as to determine the desire of residents to have an all hall recycling program.

Opening Instructions
Please answer the following questions.

Page 1

Question 1

What is your year in school?
Graduate Student

Question 2

What residence hall are you staying in?
Van Zile

Question 3

Do you currently recycle?

Question 4

Which drop off points would you recycle at? (select all that apply)
Every trash room
Odd floor trash rooms
Your residence hall's basement
Your residence hall's lobby
Outdoor bins
I would not recycle if facilities were available

Question 5

How many of each item do you throw away per week in your residence? (Select the appropriate range)

1 - 0-3 of item | 2 - 4-7 of item | 3 - 8-11 of item
4 - 12 or more of item

5.1 Newspaper
5.2 Magazines
5.3 Computer/Office/Notebook Paper
5.4 Aluminum Cans
5.5 Plastic Bottles
5.6 Cardboard

Question 6

Select the appropriate level of importance.

1 - Extremely Important | 2 - Important | 3 - Unimportant
4 - Extremely Unimportant

6.1 How important is recycling to you?

Question 7

Select the appropriate range.

1 - $0 | 2 - $1-$10 | 3 - $11-$20 | 4 - $21-$30 | 5 - $31-$40

7.1 How much extra money would you be willing to pay per year in your housing bill for a recycling program?

Closing Message
Thank you for taking time to voice your opinion.

- End of Survey -

© 2008 Axio Learning. All Rights Reserved.



Friday, November 14, 2008

Veg Pledge Info

Mark Bittman on what's wrong with what we eat:

The Meatrix (factory farming):

Further reading:

http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Feb04/Mickeyz0212.htm (reasons to be vegan)
http://www.thegreenguide.com/doc/51/slaughterhouse (factory farming)

Laura wanted to post most of this material, but she is too weak.



Monday, November 10, 2008


NBAF this stands for national bio and agro-defense facility. Right now k-state is in the selection process to bring such a facility right here onto campus. This would mean there would be research conducted here on biological warfare agents and lethal animal diseases. It sounds like a horrible idea to me to put all the students here at risk of these diseases. Also many of the animal diseases they are going to be researching are not in the United States and if they were to get out it would be a huge disaster. This includes Rift Valley fever (virus)3 which during the outbreak in Egypt in 1977-78, several million people were infected and thousands died. Also did you know lyme disease and west nile came to the US from a similar facility on Plum island off the east coast. That was an island and it got out. As a scientist myself I realize the great potential a facilty such as this one would have to investigate these diseases but I dont think campus is the place for it. You can check out the pros here http://www.k-state.edu/media/nbaf/faqs.html. The cons are a lot harder to find becasue the facility would potentially bring in a lot of money. It would make more sense to study these diseases where they currently exist and not put our environment at risk of infection and spread.



Thursday, November 06, 2008

Solar power game-changer: 'Near perfect' absorption of sunlight, from all angles

Nov 04, 2008 05:19:01 GMT

A new nanoengineered anti-reflective coating developed by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers boosts the amount of sunlight captured by solar panels (from 67 to 96 percent) and allows them to absorb the entire spectrum of sunlight from any angle, regardless of the sun's position in the sky. It could help to overcome two major hurdles blocking the progress and wider use of solar power.

(Source: http://www.physorg.com/news144940463.html)



Monday, October 27, 2008

Activist says Green Needs To Touch Blue Collar

Here is an interview with Van Jones, founder of Green for All, a group advocating training for emerging green jobs. He talks about the necessity of making emerging green technologies available for middle and lower income brackets as well as lifting people out of poverty by giving them training to hold new "green collar" jobs. The article does a good job of emphasizing the need for holistic solutions to environmental problems.

Some people defend against the idea of the "eco-elite," saying that individuals paying for high priced green products are helping the development of green technology along by making it profitable for companies to be innovative. With continued support from these individuals, businesses will become more efficient at producing green technologies, making it more affordable for lower income groups. Van Jones suggests that this may not be the case, that green technology may always be relatively unaffordable for those with lower incomes. Do you agree? Is there anything that could be done to expedite the process of making this technology more affordable?



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Eco-themed Halloween costume ideas

If anyone is still looking for a good costume idea for Halloween, here are some that Umbra suggested in her weekly advice column on Grist.org.  (Some of you may have already seen this, but I thought it was amusing and that it might be of interest.) :    

Al Gore bitten by polar bear. Find Al Gore mask (eBay?) or pomade hair and add cardboard armature to chin area. Attach stuffed polar animal by mouth to humorous body area of your choosing.

CFL bulb. Wear shiny white body suit and electrify hair in some way (Bride of Frank wig?). Build CFL filament around yourself, using white foam tubes, stuffed white fabric/socks, or white balloons.

Prius owner. Dress in clean, tasteful clothing and walk around with contented air, holding Prius key casually at chin level (paint small matchbox black and write "Prius" in shiny letters or, if you have actual Prius, write "Prius" on key). Stuff pockets to overflowing with money saved on gas.

Landfill. Don dun clothing with the following attached by tape or thread: lots of garbage, toy bulldozer, seagulls, trash pickers, or, for international credit, houses.

Glacier in 2050. Carry glass of water.

The nation's highways. Wear black, put yellow stripes down your middle. Add local humor with toy vehicles, signs, and figurines referencing specific transportation dilemma.

 Here's the link, if you want to



Minutes – 14 October, 2008

As requested, here are the minutes . . . posted on the coblog!  I guess people can ask questions about them here if they have them.  

Event announcements . . . mark your calendars!  

  1. This Thursday, October 16 (TOMORROW) @ City Hall (1101 Poyntz Avenue) 6-8pm 
    Open house to discuss bicycling in Manhattan!  We all want Manhattan to be more bicycle friendly, so this is your chance to have your voice heard and your presence noted.  Go, go, go. 

  2. Friday, October 17 from 9-2 in the quad on campus 
    Farm Club (Harvesters of Environmental Sustainability) will be holding a Farmer's Market.  And apparently they WILL be selling sweet potatoes, thank goodness.  

  3. Saturday, October 18 – also with the Farm Club, another farm help day and camp out!  
    Starting at around 10am and throughout the whole day and night, come help and camp out and have a lot of fun!  

  4. So we've got a spot in the Homecoming Parade, and we decided at the meeting that we're going to go for it!  . . . Which means we have to make a float now!  We threw around a couple of ideas at the meeting – including an Earth made out of recycled materials, or a field with wind turbines on it.  Sound awesome?  I thought so.  Come to the meeting next Tuesday (October 21) a little early and help work on the float.  We'll be there starting at 6pm and just stay through the meeting.  

  5. November 19 – VegPledge!  Think about signing it – see Laura's email from October 11 for more information.  
    Here's the petition and also check out the Facebook event.  

Some other announcements:  

  1. SEA is in need of a Fundraiser!  Lani has opted to step down from that position due to busy-ness with school and other responsibilities.  
    Here's the description of the position:  "The Fundraiser chair will coordinate fundraising activities and research new and creative recycled fundraising merchandise to sell at any of the social functions or Union tabling."  There are the usual crafts (recycled notebooks, hemp bracelets, bottle cap magnets, etc.)  The fundraiser also usually plans a craft party each semester.  

    This is a great opportunity to be more involved in the club.  This position also allows you to be as creative as you want to be.  Think about it, if anyone is interested, come to next week's meeting or send Zack (zackp@ksu.edu) an email. We'll probably hold nominations and elections soon.  

  2. The Udall Scholarship is available for college sophomores and juniors (or any students who have at least another year of school) 
    Around 85 scholarships are awarded each year to students interested in environmental or Native American health.  If anyone wants more info, talk to Ben (champion@ksu.edu).  

  3. Use the coblog!  See Andrew's email from this morning if you're having any trouble with it.  

Until next week,



Monday, October 06, 2008

The Giant Pool of Money

As one who knew (or cared) little about how investment markets work and how they are related to everything else (including the environment), I have found the latest happenings in our economy pretty interesting. With all the news reports that are out on the subject I've found its also an excellent time to learn...

Here's an episode of This American Life that explains the housing crisis, how it started, how it is linked to Wall Street, and its implications on the economy. As in any episode of This American Life, "The Giant Pool of Money" also provides interesting perspectives of people, in this case of ones who were directly involved in buildup of the housing crisis. Check it out.



Saving the World for a Latte

Here's an interesting article about a recycling program where customers actually get paid based on amount they recycle.

Do you think RecycleBank (or using economic incentives in general) is a good way to entice people to recycle?

Do you feel the article accurately portrayed the Midwest?



Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Colbert Report

I thought this was amusing.



Thursday, May 15, 2008


Anybody familiar with this organization or their STARS program?

I found it through Truthout.org

They are also hosting a conference in November from the 9-11 in Raleigh, NC. Might be an alternative/supplement to GreenFest in SF that same month.

-David Beckley



Monday, May 12, 2008

Championing KSU's Sustainability Initiatives

Monday, May 12, 2008


MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University has multiple initiatives going on to encourage the campus to go green.

The K-State administration has recognized the need for university-wide leadership of these initiatives, so Ben Champion, a 2002 K-State graduate and Rhodes scholar, is returning to campus to coordinate these efforts. Champion has been appointed to the newly formed position of director of sustainability for the university, tasked with developing a university-wide approach for addressing sustainability at K-State.

According to Tom Rawson, vice president for administration and finance, "Ben will provide leadership for sustainability efforts and be the spokesperson for K-State's initiatives in this area."

Champion will provide leadership and oversight to existing initiatives such as campus recycling and construction of green buildings on campus, but he will also identify opportunities for new initiatives, help develop curriculum, facilitate interdisciplinary research, work with students, and engage the broader community in areas where K-State can be a leader in terms of sustainability.

Champion earned K-State bachelor's degrees in chemistry, natural resources and environmental sciences with minors in Spanish and political science in 2002. He is a 2003 Rhodes scholar who in January of this year completed a doctoral degree in geography at Oxford University researching sustainable food systems.

Champion was an intern for Rep. Dennis Moore in summer 2002. He was a Udall Scholarship winner in 2000. He also was a finalist in the 2002 Truman scholarship competition. He is an Eagle Scout, a Kansas Honors Scholar, a K-State Putnam Scholar, a Howard Hughes Undergraduate Research Scholar, as well as winner of June Hull Sherrid Biology Scholarship. He was an environmental director on his residence hall floor and president of Students for Environmental Action at K-State. He is a member of Alpha Chi Sigma chemical fraternity and Golden Key and Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Societies. The son of Mike and Paula Champion, Olathe, he is a 1998 graduate of Olathe South High School.

For information on "green" activities at K-State, visit http://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/green/index.html



Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Does anyone have gardening plans for the summer. Is the garden at Knabe's going to get going again?



Monday, April 28, 2008

Home Brewed Ethanol

New York Times
April 27, 2008

Home Brew for the Car, Not the Beer Cup

WHAT if you could make fuel for your car in your backyard for less than you pay at the pump? Would you?

The first question has driven Floyd S. Butterfield for more than two decades. Mr. Butterfield, 52, is something of a legend for people who make their own ethanol. In 1982, he won a California Department of Food and Agriculture contest for best design of an ethanol still, albeit one that he could not market profitably at the time.

Now he thinks that he can, thanks to his partnership with the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Thomas J. Quinn. The two have started the E-Fuel Corporation, which soon will announce its home ethanol system, the E-Fuel 100 MicroFueler. It will be about as large as a stackable washer-dryer, sell for $9,995 and ship before year-end.

The net cost to consumers could drop by half after government incentives for alternate fuels, like tax credits, are applied.

The MicroFueler will use sugar as its main fuel source, or feedstock, along with a specially packaged time-release yeast the company has developed. Depending on the cost of sugar, plus water and electricity, the company says it could cost as little as a dollar a gallon to make ethanol. In fact, Mr. Quinn sometimes collects left-over alcohol from bars and restaurants in Los Gatos, Calif., where he lives, and turns it into ethanol; the only cost is for the electricity used in processing.

In general, he says, burning a gallon of ethanol made by his system will produce one-eighth the carbon of the same amount of gasoline.

Read Entire Article



Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Eating Local" Has Little Effect on Warming, Study Says

Mason Inman
for National Geographic News
April 22, 2008
Being a "locavore" and eating foods grown near where you live may not help the environment as much as you might think, according a new study.

When it comes to global warming, focusing simply on where food comes from will make only a small difference, the study's authors say.

"In terms of the average American diet, 'food miles' are not so important as what you're eating," said study leader Christopher Weber of Carnegie Mellon University.

On average, food racks up about 1,000 food miles (or 1,650 "food kilometers") traveling from farms to processing or packaging plants before reaching Americans' dinner plates, the study estimates.

The whole supply chain—including delivering grains to feed cattle and delivering fuel to farms, for example—adds another 4,200 miles (6,750 kilometers).

Yet all that shipping, driving, and flying accounts for only a sliver of foods' climate impact—just 11 percent of the total—compared with the impact from producing the food itself, the study showed.

The research appeared last week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Read Entire Article



Tuesday, March 18, 2008

USDA Renewable Energy Grants/Loans/Combos

Coming soon to a theater near us:

Section 9006: Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program

Photo of President Bush

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (the Farm Bill) established the Renewable Energy Systems and Energy Efficiency Improvements Program under Title IX, Section 9006. This program currently funds grants and loan guarantees to agricultural producers and rural small business for assistance with purchasing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements.

On this site you will find information on the Section 9006 grant and guaranteed loan programs including details on project and applicant eligibility, application procedures, required forms and other useful information to assist you in the application process. For full information on the program, please refer to the program rule, 7 CFR Part 4280.

NEWS: March 6, 2008 - Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Program Federal Register Announcement - USDA published a notice in the announcing it is accepting applications for fiscal year (FY) 2008 to purchase renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements for agriculture producers and rural small businesses in eligible rural areas. Funding will be available in the form of grants, guaranteed loans, and combined guaranteed loans and grant applications. For FY 2008 there is approximately $15.8 million in funding for competitive grants and $204.9 million in authority for guaranteed loans. This Notice of Funds Availability can be downloaded here.




Thursday, March 13, 2008

Guerilla Gardening

hmmm . . . unofficial SEA gathering? (click here for more info)



Wednesday, March 05, 2008

one more thing

Please be the critical students that I know you are... critique the heck out of the website and blogs... I am very interested in your opinions and what you think has prospects of working and what does not... We really are at a time when things have to start happening. It is heartening to see the many things that are happening with and via SEA and all around us. So many possibilities. somehow you've got to believe in them. I am really proud to say I know you.

Much thanks,




Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Kansas Clean Energy Day

Kansas Clean Energy Day!

Recently, the state legislature passed bills that would allow two coal-fired power
plants in Western KS to be built. This came a+er the Secretary of KDHE made a
landmark decision to deny the plant permit based on concerns of their global
warming impact. Concerned citizens and community groups from across the state
will gather for a Clean Energy Day at the Capitol to urge our state leaders to
support a clean, secure energy future.
Environment Energy
Speak out for Clean Energy!
Tuesday, March 11th, 2008
3rd floor, State Capitol Building
300 SW 10th St. Topeka, KS
For more information visit
Buses and carpools will be leaving for this non-partisan event
from around the state. Check the website for details!
There will be a bus going there from Manhattan!



Eco-operate and BlueEarth blogs

Hi all,

I recently created a couple of blogs related to an "eco-operation" that I am forming called Blue Earth (www.blueearth.googlepages.com)... The Blue Earth blog is at: www.blueearthling.blogspot.com, and the Eco-operation blog is at: www.eco-operation.blogspot.com. I am just beginning to fiddle with content, etc. and am learning how to make it easy for others to join and share. The Eco-operation blog is intended for exchange and discussion of ideas related to what eco-operation might mean and might look like. It is also about envisioning a future in which humans are living in harmony with the environment and its ecology and what the steps for realizing the future will have to be. Any thoughts? My best~ jeff



Sunday, January 27, 2008

Focus the Nation


We Stand at a Critical Time in History

In the next few years, we as a nation will make, or fail to make, critical decisions regarding global warming pollution and clean technology investments. These decisions will have far-reaching and irreversible impacts on the lives of today’s students and the lives of their children. At this moment in time, we owe our young people at least a day of focused discussion about global warming solutions for America.

Focus the Nation is organizing a national teach-in on global warming solutions for America—creating a dialogue at over a thousand colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, places of worship, civic organizations and businesses, and directly engaging millions of students and citizens with the nation’s decision-makers. Focus the Nation will culminate January 31st, 2008 in simultaneous educational symposia held across the country. Our intent is to move America beyond fatalism to a determination to face up to this civilizational challenge, the challenge of our generation.

Focus the Nation is an educational initiative, but we also promote civic engagement. Each Focus team will invite local, state and federal political leaders and decision-makers to come to campus and participate in a non-partisan, round-table discussion of global warming solutions. US Senators and members of congress, state representatives, mayors and city councilors, all will be receiving dozens of invitations to speak about global warming, from over a thousand institutions nation-wide. Every institution will also vote on their top five national priorities for global warming action, producing a campus and citizen endorsed policy agenda for 2008.

Currently over 1000 institutions, mostly colleges and universities, have signed on to participate, and dozens of college and university Presidents have endorsed the initiative. To maximize both education and civic engagement, Focus the Nation has four key components:

NATIONAL TEACH-IN: On January 31st , thousands of students on every campus, millions of students nationwide, participate in workshops and panels, brainstorming global warming solutions. Are you with us? Are your faculty supporting you? Ask ten, twenty, fifty faculty to stand up as educators on behalf of your future. They will say yes. To make this happen, start with the sample teach-in.

GREEN DEMOCRACY: Campus to Congress. Tell top decision-makers in this country about solutions. Invite every US senator and congressperson to engage in person. If they can’t be there physically, then they will face a student audience via a video-chat. Focus the Nation is working with leaders in the House of Representatives to make this happen, in conjunction with their efforts to green the congress. The face-to-face, intergenerational dialogue of Green Democracy will move America to confront this civilizational challenge.

CHOOSE YOUR FUTURE: Vote on the top five solutions to global warming. Proposed solutions range from a coal moratorium, to large scale renewables investment, to initiatives to strengthen forests for carbon storage. Choose the Future is the place for serious discussion about how to achieve what science and justice demand. The week leading up to January 31st, you vote, and your Focus team delivers the results to your congressional office. Every political leader in the country will hear your voice. Join the discussion today!

2% SOLUTION: A national, interactive webcast, airing live the evening of January 30th, featuring Stanford climate scientist Stephen Schneider, sustainability expert Hunter Lovins, and green jobs pioneer Van Jones. Show the webcast to launch your teach-in. Screen it at your high school, faith group, civic organization, or at a house party. Our goal—10,000 screenings and a determination TO STOP GLOBAL WARMING.

With these four components, together we will Focus the Nation.

“I believe that a business as usual scenario will guarantee disintegration of West Antarctica and parts of Greenland” — Dr. James Hansen, 2/2/07

Over the next decade, critical policy decisions will be made with irreversible consequences for the future. Dr. James Hansen, the top US government climate scientist, believes that if we do not stabilize greenhouse gas emissions soon, we may set in motion a process leading to collapse of the West Antarctic and Greenland Ice sheets, events that would raise global sea levels by over 40 feet, inundating many of the world’s major cities. This of course is just one of the myriad potential consequences of human-induced warming, with regional and global impacts ranging from hurricanes of greater intensity and duration, global water shortages, altered patterns of rainfall, drought and flood, massive forest die-back, and large-scale species extinction.

Students today face many important social, economic, and security issues. Global warming however, is unique, in that if we are to reduce the risk of large-scale, irreversible, world-wide damages, then ambitious—and potentially costly—policy solutions must be undertaken within a very compressed time frame. Failure to act soon increases the likelihood of a swing in global temperatures of Ice Age magnitude within our children’s lifetimes, only in the opposite direction. We have a window of time now to create the foundation for a just and sustainable future.

The second motivation for this project is to explore a new model of collaborative, interdisciplinary education, on a national scale. Focus the Nation will require campus-based teams of faculty and students to draw on campus expertise across the broad range of disciplines. Focus the Nation provides an exciting model opportunity to create, for one day, a true national community of scholarship bridging traditional disciplinary boundaries.

This is an opportunity for educators to take a leadership role, and catalyze a process which indeed will “Focus the Nation”. For the last 150 years we have been engaged in an unprecedented natural experiment, drastically altering the basic nature of the planet’s climate control system. Focus the Nation is engaging the country with the question: How far can we let that experiment go?

To be a part of Focus the Nation, simply SIGN UP to participate. By signing up, you are committing to help organize an educational event about global warming solutions at your institution on (or around) January 31st, 2008. This involves, at a minimum, screening The 2% Solution webcast, but the times demand, if at all possible, that we step into a real leadership role as educators in our communities. As colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, faith organizations, businesses, and civic groups come together, we can launch a discussion far-reaching enough to change the future.

Once you sign up, you will receive bi-weekly updates from Focus the Nation that will suggest many ways to build your event. To hold global warming to the low end, we have only a few short years to act. To ensure action, we have only a few short months to Focus the Nation. Please sign up today.

Once you have a launched a Focus the Nation organizing team at your institution, build support for a truly deep conversation by obtaining the endorsement of the following resolutions by your President, Head of School, CEO, Boards of Directors, Student government, Faculty Senate, or Organization. (See who has already endorsed!).



Monday, January 14, 2008

biodiesel from grass



SOURCE: JUAN WILSON juanwilson@earthlink.net

POSTED: 29 December 2006 - 8:30am
Going Native: Bad news for Big Ag Biz

These plots of mixed grassland species in Minnesota showed smart choice for biofuels

Diverse grassland plants edge out crops as biofuel
by Aimee Cunningham on 9 December 2006 in Science News

Mixtures of plants native to prairies can give a better energy return as biofuel than corn and soybeans do, a new study finds. Biofuel production from grassland plants would also result in lower emissions of carbon dioxide and reduced pollution from agricultural chemicals.

Corn-grain ethanol and soybean biodiesel are starting to replace some gasoline and petrodiesel Science News: 7/15/06, page 36: www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060715/fob4.asp

However, corn and soy crops need large amounts of pesticides, water, and fertilizers.

TilmanEcologist David Tilman of the University of Minnesota in St. Paul and his colleagues determined the resources required for and energy gained from biofuels made from perennial grassland plants. These species wouldn't require regular herbicide treatments, irrigation, or fertilization and could be grown on agriculturally abandoned land. Grassland plants aren't yet used in biofuels.

In 1994, the researchers planted 152 plots of agriculturally degraded land with different numbers of perennial grassland species, such as legumes, grasses, and herbs. They monitored and sampled the plots from 1996 to 2005.

The researchers found that the most diverse plots—those with 16 different species—were also the most productive, with the potential to generate more than three times as much energy as plots that bore only one species.

The prairie-grass mixtures would give a net energy return that's more than 17 times that of corn-grain ethanol, Tilman says.

His team also calculated that with the use of an alternative chemical process now being investigated for biofuel production, fuel from grassland plants yields 51 percent more net energy per hectare than corn-grain ethanol does. The scientists report their findings in the December 8th, 2006 Science Magazine.

The production and combustion of both corn ethanol and soybean biodiesel increase carbon dioxide emissions, although less so than those of an equivalent amount of gasoline and petrodiesel. Therefore, the researchers determined how much carbon dioxide the prairie plants sequester in their roots and the soil and the amount of this gas that would be released from fossil fuel combustion during the cultivation, transport, and processing of the plants and combustion of the biofuel.

The team found that each acre of diverse prairie plants removes from the atmosphere the amount of carbon dioxide released by burning about 190 gallons of gasoline.

In the search for new energy sources, "we should be trying to optimize all the things that society needs," says Tilman. He adds that the planting of degraded lands would prevent competition with food crops.

"The answer to sustainable energy production is going to be to use sound ecological approaches like they've spelled out here," says John Sheehan, who works on energy efficiency at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. But with the large amount of agricultural land in the United States, "it may make very good sense to use at least a portion of that land for energy production," says Sheehan. .



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