Friday, April 01, 2005

The Irresistable Allure Of Slavery

The number of projects such as this one from Science Blog will start boggling the mind -- and wallet -- presently. The project, using grass pellets as fuel, may or may not make economic sense, but the problem, we are informed by Jerry Cherney, the E.V. Baker Professor of Agriculture at Cornell University, is a lack of government funding.
"Burning grass pellets makes sense; after all, it takes 70 days to grow a crop of grass for pellets, but it takes 70 million years to make fossil fuels," says Cherney, who notes that a grass-for-fuel crop could help supplement farmers' incomes. Cherney presented the case for grass biofuel at a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored conference, Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Sequestration in Agriculture and Forestry, held March 21-24 in Baltimore.

"Grass pellets have great potential as a low-tech, small-scale, renewable energy system that can be locally produced, locally processed and locally consumed, while having a positive impact on rural communities," Cherney told the conference.

The downside? "Unfortunately grass has no political lobby, which makes the start up of any new alternative energy industry problematic," says Cherney. He notes that a pellet-fuel industry was successfully established in Europe by providing subsidies to the industry. And even though the ratio of the amount of energy needed to produce grass pellets to the amount of energy they produce is much more favorable than for other biomass crops, the lack of government support prevents the industry from going forward, he says.

And henceforth, the industry is successful, QED. We should expect this from a university professor hoping to get research grants, but everyone else looking for real solutions to energy problems should take a very dim view of his request. It recalls a favorite line of Lincoln's regarding slavery, namely, "You work and toil and earn bread -- and I'll eat it." That is, the beneficiaries of this system are principally its authors, and not necessarily the people using the stuff. If grass pellets are such a great idea, with energy getting shorter, the venture capitalists should be breaking into his house for speaking engagements.