Will Biofuels cause Peakfood?

February 25, 2010 · Filed Under competition from biofuels · Comment 

ActionAid has produced a report called “Meals Per Gallon: The impact of industrial biofuels on people and global hunger,” which says that EU companies had taken millions of acres of land out of food production in Africa, central America and Asia, to grow biofuels for transport.

They say that most industrial biofuels are made from agricultural crops grown in developing countries on land that should instead be used for food production.  The charity believes that the 2008 decision by EU countries to obtain 10% of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020 was having a disastrous effect on poorer nations. 

Report author Tim Rice said: “Biofuels are driving a global human tragedy. Local food prices have already risen massively. As biofuel production gains pace, this can only accelerate.”

At www.peakfood.co.uk we are against those biofuels with a poor energy balance – where the input of fossil energy is nearly as great as the energy in the resulting biofuel. Some US ethanol from corn comes under this category. We are also against destroying rainforest to plant with oil palm. Burning that massive carbon store will never be made up by the CO2 savings made by producing palm oil.

However, it is important that we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, especially in farming itself. We need to work on developing a sustainable farming system that collects solar energy both for food and fuel if we are to feed the growing population in a future where oil will become scarce and expensive. 

We will need to produce cellulosic ethanol and biogas from plant residues. Brazil now makes millions of gallons of ethanol from sugar cane residue very efficiently.

 Farmers on arable land in developing countries perhaps need help so that they can find ways to produce both food and fuel in a way that does not harm valuable soil.

But most important of all is that both the developed and developing worlds innovate to reduce consumption of all fuels thereby slowing global warming and oil and gas depletion.

Medical Advances to speed up Peakfood

February 23, 2010 · Filed Under Uncategorized · Comment 

According to Professor Tom Kirkwood, director for the Institute of Ageing and Health at Newcastle University we are closer than ever to developing treatments for age-related diseases.

In many ways this is fantastic news.  We can all look forward to a healthier longer life.

However in the longterm people living longer will put extra pressure on the world’s resources and population will grow even faster.  Peakfood – the moment in time when per capita availability of food in the world reaches a maximum and then begins to decline – just might come sooner.

Advances in medicine are all well and good, but at the same time we need to be putting money and energy into developing sustainable farming techniques.

Why Modern Farming is Unsustainable

February 21, 2010 · Filed Under security of energy supply · Comment 

The farmer’s job is to manage the original solar energy collector-the plant leaf.   We use the sun’s energy collected by plants to take the carbon from carbon dioxide and the hydrogen from water to synthesise carbohydrates and give off oxygen. When the carbohydrate is eaten, burned or it just decays, the opposite happens- oxygen is required, carbon dioxide and water are given up and energy is released.

Of course, this is nothing new. This cycle was working perfectly well long before farmers came on the scene. We merely try to improve on nature by fighting pests and disease, by providing optimum nutrition and by trying to eliminate plants from our fields other than those that we wish to harvest.

Green plants are the only primary producers of foodstuffs and humans are dependent on plants for all of their food, either directly or indirectly. All of our human energy comes from the sun and the feeding of the world depends on our ability to collect enough solar energy and convert it to food energy through farming plants .It used to be so simple. Around 30% of crops were used to fuel the horses, oxen and humans to provide the muscle for field and transport work. Soil fertility was maintained by recycling nutrients, crop rotation including nitrogen fixing legumes and fallows. Yields were low but so was the world population.

But in the past 70 years or so there has been a dramatic development that has enabled the world population to triple. WE have found a way to cheat!

Instead of just converting current sunshine in to food energy we have found how to convert ancient sunshine collected by pre-historic plants and marine organisms in to food energy.

We now convert hydrocarbons in to carbohydrates.

The present population of nearly7 billion people is being supported not just on current sunshine but on sunshine that reached this earth millions of years ago.

The land previously used to feed work animals can now be used to provide human food as diesel engines provide the muscle. Fossil fuel sourced pesticides and nitrogen fertiliser have dramatically increased yields and enabled the green revolution in India and elsewhere.

Amazingly, if transport and processing is included, we now use about 10 calories of fossil energy to produce each calorie of food energy in an average meat based diet.

Converting fossil energy in to a smaller amount of more expensive food energy worked well when fossil energy was cheap and plentiful but will fail when it is scarce and expensive.

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