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How Much Carbon?

By Eytan Krasilovsky
November 14, 2008
File under: Carbon Emissions

I’ll stand by the statement that biomass from forests for renewable energy can be sustainable and efficient. In fact, some experts see it as the most sustainable and efficient form of biomass…under certain conditions. They refer to it as woody biomass.But what about woody biomass’ role in climate change, and the ever important carbon footprint? By using woody biomass we release a different type of carbon than fossil fuels. The carbon in biomass is closely tied to the active atmosphere-biosphere cycle while fossil fuel carbon releases what had been permanently stored geologic carbon. Humans can affect the amount of carbon stored in biomass through …read more of How Much Carbon? here

 
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Is Biomass Viable?

By Eytan Krasilovsky
November 9, 2008
File under: Alternative Sources

Biomass - logsUnless you live on a new lava flow or sand dune, biomass is all around you. This ancient form of renewable energy is a good place to start as we navigate towards our future leveraging renewable energy.Biomass energy is energy derived from a recently living plant (or algal) material such as wood, grass, sugar cane, and corn. As with many renewable energy sources, biomass energy can be sustainable and efficient when the source can be naturally replenished in a reasonable timeframe with reasonable environmental consequences. To measure sustainability, the energy captured from its use needs to outweigh the energy expended growing, harvesting, and processing it. Thus, minimally processed biomass, where little to no effort was wasted in its cultivation, is usually (given similar energy outputs) more efficient than when cultivation and processing are needed.Biomass can be burned with minimal processing (wood in a fireplace or boiler), can be processed (wood chips or pellets) and then burned or converted into an alcohol based fuel and burned in boilers or combustion engines.Much of the world currently uses biomass energy like burning wood for household heating and cooking. In northern New Mexico, (where I currently live), over 50% of house-holds burn wood for heating, cooking, or both. This wood comes from woodlands and forests, often on public land.Is this sustainable? Are we burning more than will be naturally replenished? …read more of Is Biomass Viable? here

 
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Microscopic Crops, Astronomical Yields

By Carl Boyd
November 6, 2008
File under: Alternative Sources

crops

Several years ago, I heard about the concept of growing algae as a crop for biofuels such as ethanol or biodiesel.  I was intriqued, but like many, I was skeptical of how much fuel could be derived from such a diminutive source. I felt sure that this was fresh-0ut-of-the-Petri-dish discovery, and would take decades to reach practical applications.

Well, as it turns out, the idea is already in beta.  Several companies have already developed prototype systems for raising and processing algae into biofuels.

You might now be saying, ‘That’s nice, but what’s so great about algae?’ Let’s start with what’s not so great about current biofuel sources.  Anyone who’s read the book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, is aware that modern corn and soybean crops require an exorbitant amount of petroleum-based fertilzer and pesticides, plus lakefuls of clean water to raise these hungry crops.  And of course, they need prime farmland, so crops grown for fuel are now competing with cropland producing food.  In some places, new farmland for fuelcrops is being created by burning down rainforests (aka the Earth’s lungs).  This may lead the European Union to step back from a sweeping commitment to biodiesel.

These problems are greatly reduced for several new systems which raise algae vertically in greenhouses with a closed-loop process that reuses its water, requires less energy, no fertilizers or pesticides, and is in season year-round. The systems can be located in desert regions, where food crop farming isn’t viable.

So algae has the game advantage of lower impact production, but its real trump card is the potential yield.  Vertically grown algae can yield 20 times the oil per acre of any current crop.  Half of the mass in an algae cell is lipid oil.  Most fuelcrops involve growing a plant just to harvest its seeds (corn kernels, soy beans, palm nuts). Raising algae skips that step, and still yields more oil than any seed.

There’s no algae-derived fuel on the market yet, but the science is sound enough that serious investors like Bill Gates are expecting a quick return on their investment in these little green wonders.

 
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Turbines – A Viable Alternative?

By Natasha Whitney
November 3, 2008
File under: Alternative Sources, Energy Sources

wind turbines

What do George W. Bush, Jay Leno, and New York Mayor Bloomberg have in common? They’ve all installed small-scale wind turbines on their properties. Small-scale turbines, those that are less than 10 m in height and deliver less than 100kW at maximum power, are the new rage in independent-energy generation. The 9,000 small turbines sold in the U.S. last year are generating enough energy to power 7,000 American homes.

Does this mean that “the answer is blowing in the wind”. Not necessarily, there are a slew of concerns with small-scale wind turbines not to mention several publicized wind-farm blunders such as broken blades and killing bats. …read more of Turbines – A Viable Alternative? here

 
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Dig, Cut, or Drill?

By Eytan Krasilovsky
October 24, 2008
File under: Energy Sources

Dig Cut DrillBeing a new father, I value the future and the quality of that future more than ever. Though I’m not worried about a Hollywood style “big melt,” there are un-doubtedly major changes brewing in our world’s natural systems that will affect our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.I have also studied and now work in natural resources, forests specifically, and have heard folks tout the promise of renewable energy.  In forestry that usually refers to biomass. The quickest way to generate forest biomass is through a clear-cut, which is a socially and ecologically unacceptable method. Though there are other ways to procure forest biomass, solar and wind always seemed “greener” to me.There is no one solution to our environmental ills, but the development and use of renewable energy sources rather than non-renewables (fossil fuels) is a move in the right direction. …read more of Dig, Cut, or Drill? here

 
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