Mr. Green Car: Bioenergy Days wrap-up: Midwest pioneering alternative forms of renewable energy

November 3, 2010

By Allen Penticoff
Free-lance Writer

Of all the alternate forms of energy that were of discussion and on display at the International Bioenergy Days Sept. 26-28 at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, the main ones were: grinding up wood and other natural matter waste and compressing into pellets, algae-grown biodiesel, and bio-digesters that convert fecal waste into usable methane gas.

Many of the products on display were intended to heat homes and businesses with the compressed pellet form of fuel. I learned we have businesses making these pellets right here in the Rock River Valley, and we have Freedom Field using these pellets to create energy.

Paul Anderson from Illinois State University had a simple, but refined, cook stove that consumed natural fuels in a very efficient and pollution-free manner that would help impoverished areas use their fuel far more effectively and reduce their carbon footprint.

Growth Dimensions is a Belvidere-based nonprofit organization that works with a six-county alliance for economic development to promote and advance the commercialization of agricultural-based products. Also tied in is the Rockford-based business Aquatec, a division of Aqua Aerobics, which manufactures biogas recovery equipment.

Regionally, there are several biodiesel plants, but because of the expiration of the “Blenders Tax Credit,” the industry has all but shut down, and is running at only 10 to 15 percent of capacity.

Another regional company, INOV8 International from LaCrosse, Wis., was promoting their waste vegetable oil water heater. They’ve found much of the energy used in our nation’s 950,000 restaurants is in the form of creating hot water. They rationalized that most of these restaurants can take their fryer oil and, with no further energy input by anyone, use it to heat their water.

INOV8’s water heater has a back-up natural gas source that kicks in automatically if the waste oil runs out. The payback period for the $9,500 water heater can be remarkably short.

INOV8 also makes a space-heating furnace that operates on waste crankcase oil and natural gas for vehicle service businesses that have a ready supply of this energy source.

So, what I learned from all this is that here in the Midwest, we are already pioneering alternative forms of renewable energy other than wind and solar power, and that new businesses and jobs are simply awaiting the demand for their products. This leads to a program I and 30 other people attended called “Can Biofuel Fill The Gap?” by Dr. Guy McPherson. (His website is: www.guymcpherson.com.)

McPherson’s program title was a bit deceptive—for his short answer to the title question is NO. That is, our demands for energy—electricity, oil, natural gas, far outstrip any possible means of meeting the demands with the use of agricultural-based sources (which are energy-intensive in themselves). McPherson said he fully expected the rest of his talk to offend some listeners. I would not say they were offended, but many were certainly surprised. McPherson talked mostly about rapid species extinction, and tied to the energy theme, our looming disaster of oil depletion.

McPherson spoke about how peak oil has been arrived at. Of all the oil on the planet, in the short time that people have been using oil, we have now used up half of what is available. The problem is what oil is left is getting more difficult to access (witness the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico) and process (Canadian oil sands require a lot of energy to process), AND the planet is using ever more oil—thus, there will be a dramatic drop in the supply after the peak.

This is the looming oil crash (there is a film called Oil Crash you should watch). Oil prices will spike, kicking off another recession, as he insisted has always happened. With possible total economic meltdown, the price of gasoline will drop, but nobody will be able to afford to buy any. Only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford to fly anywhere.

Guy McPherson said the predictions are for this meltdown to occur within the next year or two, but he personally felt it would not likely happen for maybe three years, in 2012 (in alignment with the Mayan calendar ending?). Since nearly all our food is wholly dependent on oil, its unaffordability will lead to mass starvations, food wars and chaos. Those who survive will live in “transition towns”—small communities that can grow their own food and transport it without oil—we’re talking going back to pre-industrial times. You might want to look into moving to a pre-disastered country where oil is not a big part of people’s lives.

McPherson claims, “There are no politically viable solutions.” But, he claims, the bright side is that with the collapse of human society, the planet itself will be able to recover. The atmosphere can return to normal carbon dioxide levels, and our ability to wipe out other species will be diminished. He recommended Derrick Jensen’s book, endgame, for those wanting to read about this theory of impending collapse.

Now, while his program was quite logical, most would laugh at what McPherson had just delivered. But the program moderator asked the audience for a show of hands of those who agreed with his doomsday assessment. Half of the 30 international attendees raised their hands. That’s something to think about.

From the Nov. 3-9, 2010 issue

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