Thursday, January 01, 2009

An Elegant Proof of Concept

According to this article in the New York Times, test pilots with Air New Zealand have successfully tested a biofuel-blend fuel in an aircraft engine. The biofuel in question is made from jatropha curcas, the oil of which can be readily converted to biofuel. (Incidentally, tests in Japan and the US are apparently in the planning stages.) This flight, as limited as it is, is noteworthy because it demonstrates very publicly that biofuels can be used other places than simply cars, trucks, and tractors; and it demonstrates an in-practice, real-world use (by a major commercial airline) of a fuel whose biofuel component is not derived from corn or soybeans, but is instead derived from a much more biofuel-suitable plant. This is particularly important, since the mainstream North American media seems intent on trying to make biofuels synonymous with (and only with) corn ethanol.

As I said before: Corn ethanol is not equal to "biofuels." Corn ethanol represents one type of biofuel, and only one type. Please stop referring to corn ethanol as "biofuels" as though the terms are synonymous. They are not. Doing so is unethical, flat-out dishonest, and bad journalism to boot.

The best part of the article is that even the usually biofuel-negative NYT can't avoid mentioning "jatropha needs little water or fertilizer and can be grown almost anywhere — even in sandy, saline or otherwise infertile soil. Each seed produces 30 to 40 percent of its mass in oil, giving it a high per-acre yield." (This extremely negative Reuters article seems to disagree on its being high-yield, but it also seems to contradict most of the information available on jatropha curcas as well. On the other hand, this wouldn't be the first time Reuters has lied about biofuels.)

Of course, the NYT does have to get in the usual food scarcity smear, claiming that "some observers1 [fear] that farmers could be tempted to grow jatropha rather than edible crops in the hope of getting better prices." Some other observers, namely this blogger, who isn't too chickenshit to put her pseudonym of eleven or so years on the claim, figure that since J. curcas grows just about damn anywhere including places other crops won't grow, farmers would be stupid to replace whatever their main cash crop is with jatropha, when they can grow it on their verges, on marginal land where other things won't grow, and so on. In fact, farming jatropha could make farmers out of people who own land that otherwise couldn't be farmed.

Also, while we're on the subject of making one's living from farming, I love this insinuation that nobody farms anything except for food. I guess cotton, tobacco, textile flax, seed grain, tree, mink and other fur livestock, commercial flower and decorative plant, textile bamboo, and industrial hemp farmers (among others) don't exist in NYT World. Also, seemingly, according to the author of this piece, nobody ever farms more than one thing at a time. (A friend's neighbour, whose main cash crops are tomatoes and trees in that order, might disagree.)

1 Obligatory journalistic integrity moment: "Some observers"? Like whom? Name two. Name names, or I'm going to figure that you pulled this out of your ass.


Blogger Perky Skeptic said...

Wow... This was very interesting and informative. So irritating when mainstream journalists don't do their research about important issues!

8:00 AM  

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