Re: [asa] UN Downgrades Man's Impact On The Climate

From: Don Winterstein <dfwinterstein@msn.com>
Date: Wed Dec 13 2006 - 06:24:51 EST

The important thing about this recent Bus. Week article is that it doesn't concern such intensively farmed crops....

To clarify, the really important difference between use of corn and soybeans and use of cellulose is not that corn and soybeans are intensively cultivated while prairie grasses are not. It is that cellulose constitutes a far larger fraction of all plant material than the starches, sugars and oils currently being used from corn and soybeans. So if you can figure out an efficient way to use cellulose, you have a vastly larger reservoir of useful plant material at your disposal and the consequent possibility of making a serious dent in oil imports.

The solution to this problem is a biochemical one and hence--unlike getting useful energy from fusion--within the realm of near-term possibility. The amazing things that biochemists have done gives confidence that they'll be able to solve this as well. The solution will have a major effect on agriculture and the rest of the economy.

Don

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Don Winterstein<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>
  To: asa<mailto:asa@calvin.edu> ; Ted Davis<mailto:tdavis@messiah.edu>
  Sent: Monday, December 11, 2006 7:29 AM
  Subject: Re: [asa] UN Downgrades Man's Impact On The Climate

  The advance publicity for Pimentel talks about intensively farmed crops such as corn and soybeans. There's long been a concern that these won't be economical long-term--although I've read that those who are producing the ethanol from corn say their processes are economical by a sufficient margin.

  The important thing about this recent Bus. Week article is that it doesn't concern such intensively farmed crops but plants like switchgrass and the Asian grass miscanthas, which don't need to be cultivated but only harvested from existing or new prairies. Also, waste paper, wheat straw, etc. Anything with cellulose or hemicellulose. The corn and soybean processes in contrast make use of sugars and oils. The big problem at the moment is finding an efficient way to break down cellulose into its constituent sugars. The article discusses several alternatives that are being explored.

  There certainly will be important problems they're probably minimizing at the moment. For example, how many times can you harvest grass before you have to apply fertilizer?

  Don

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Ted Davis<mailto:tdavis@messiah.edu>
    To: Dawsonzhu@aol.com<mailto:Dawsonzhu@aol.com> ; asa@calvin.edu<mailto:asa@calvin.edu> ; dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>
    Sent: Monday, December 11, 2006 6:28 AM
    Subject: Re: [asa] UN Downgrades Man's Impact On The Climate

>>> "Don Winterstein" <dfwinterstein@msn.com<mailto:dfwinterstein@msn.com>> 12/11/06 9:03 AM >>>writes:
     Don't forget too, that there are other looming issues such as energy.

    The current issue of Business Week (Dec. 18) states in an article entitled
    Put a Termite In Your Tank, "If efforts [involving 'bio breakthroughs' for
    digesting cellulose] can be scaled up efficiently, America's forests,
    agricultural waste, and 40 to 60 million acres of prairie grass could supply
    100 billion gallons or more of fuel per year--while slashing greenhouse gas
    emissions. That would replace more than half the 150 billion gallons of
    gasoline now used [by the US] annually...."

    Lots of "ifs" there, but still a rather remarkable statement. Pilot
    facilities are already being built.

    Ted responds:
    A couple of months ago, I heard a lecture by David Pimentel that all but
    rejected this approach as unrealistic, both economically and in terms of
    energy production. Advance publicity is here:
    http://www.dickinson.edu/news/nrshow.cfm?981<http://www.dickinson.edu/news/nrshow.cfm?981>

    Ted

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Received on Wed Dec 13 06:24:38 2006

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