Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Fuel, Food, and Fiber

A subrealist is first and foremost dedicated to the implementation of practical and scientific solutions to the problems of the collective that it examines. The energy required to maintain our complex society is fairly easily within our reach. It would necessitate the local reuse/recycling of bulk waste as advocated by our brilliant sister Mahndisa, and, it would involve the industrial scale cultivation of hemp as feedstock for the age-old process of pyrolysis.

Pyrolysis is the technique of applying high heat to biomass, or organic plants and tree matter, with little or no air. Reduced emissions from coal-fired power plants and automobiles can be accomplished by converting biomass to fuel utilizing pyrolysis technology. The process can produce, from cellulosic material (like the stalks of hemp), charcoal, gasoline, ethanol, non-condensable gasses, acetic acid, acetone, methane, and methanol. Process adjustments can be done to favor charcoal, pyrolytic oil, gas, or methanol, with 95.5% fuel-to-feed ratios. Around 68% of the energy of the raw biomass will be contained in the charcoal and fuel oils -- renewable energy generated here at home, instead of overpaying for foreign petroleum.

Pyrolysis facilities can run 3 shifts a day, and since pyrolysis facilities need to be within 50 miles of the energy crop to be cost effective, many new local and rural jobs will be created, not to mention the employment opportunities in trucking and transportation.

Hemp vs. Fossil Fuels

Pyrolysis facilities can use the same technology used now to process fossil fuel oil and coal. Petroleum coal and oil conversion is more efficient in terms of fuel-to-feed ratio, but there are many advantages to conversion by pyrolysis.

1) Biomass has a heating value of 5000-8000 BTU/lb, with virtually no ash or sulfur emissions.

2) Ethanol, methanol, methane gas, and gasoline can be derived from biomass at a fraction of the cost of the current cost of oil, coal, or nuclear energy, especially when environmental costs are factored in. Each acre of hemp could yield about 1000 gallons of methanol.

3) When an energy crop is growing, it takes carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, and releases an equal amount when it is burned, creating a balanced system, unlike petroleum fuels, which only release CO2. When an energy crop like hemp is grown on a massive scale, it will initially lower the CO2 in the air, and then stabilize it at a level lower than before the planting of the energy crop.

4) Use of biomass would end acid rain, end sulfer-based smog, and reverse the greenhouse effect.

Given the simplicity and obviousness of the solution to the problems we face, can there be any question whatsoever about the precise "nature" of our man-made predicament?

Is anybody holding their breath waiting in anticipation of a presidential candidate who advocates doing the simple, doable, and obvious to get the U.S. up off the energy mat?