Bio-fuels.

Written By: - Date published: 2:15 pm, February 11th, 2018 - 35 comments
Categories: capitalism, economy, Economy, energy, Environment, farming, farming, global warming, infrastructure, International, manufacturing, science, sustainability, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, transport, useless - Tags: , ,

There’s one situation I can think of where bio-fuel use has a neutral impact on global warming.

I live in a house that’s heated by wood. I walk to the woods and gather fallen branches that I burn to keep my house warm. That’s carbon neutral.

If I drive to the woods, the whole process is no longer carbon neutral. If I use a petrol chainsaw to saw up the branches, the process is no longer carbon neutral.

If I drive to the woods in an electric vehicle and use an electric chainsaw, and if those things are powered by electricity that was generated from wind, water or solar energy, then the process is carbon neutral.

If the branches are coming from a plantation and not some natural woodland/forest or bush, then the process isn’t carbon neutral. (Plantations are carbon time bombs that go off at the time of harvesting. As such, they’re simply a flagrant mis-use of land)

Now upscale that to industrial levels of activity and it should be reasonably obvious that the likes of Fonterra switching its milk powder plants from coal to wood isn’t carbon neutral (in spite of what some literature says).

They will take their biofuels from forestry residue or from other crops that have been specifically grown in order to be burned. Putting a host of environmental questions around land use, water use and ecological impacts to one side, unless the land preparation, planting, growing/management, transporting and processing of those crops/biofuels are all done using power derived from solar, wind or water, then their use isn’t carbon neutral.

That’s why ideas about Bio-Energy Carbon Capture and Storage (beccs) are embedded in bio-energy schemes.

But as I’ve written before, those ideas just don’t stack up. Even if all of the land use, water use and ecological issues could be resolved; and even if all the technical barriers could be over come in the next seven years, we’d need to be planning, constructing and commissioning somewhere in the region of two to four BECCS plants with the power generating capacity of Huntly Power Station every single week for a quarter of a century (from 2025 to 2050) to avoid 2 degrees of warming. And on top of that, we’d need to be laying in all of the necessary transportation infrastructure (getting fuel to the plants and the carbon away from the plants), on top of locating suitably secure geological sinks for the stuff.

Alternatively, we can acknowledge the scientific necessity of cutting energy related emissions by between 13% and 20% every year (it varies across countries but. keeps. going.up.) until zero emissions are attained by some time in the 2040s. That way, we might avoid 2 degrees of warming.

That only leaves, at best, a very short window for utilising any type of bio-fuel by way of a stop gap measure as we come off of carbon fuel sources. Zero is zero. There is no such thing as “good” carbon and “bad” carbon, where “good” carbon somehow doesn’t count in the scheme of things.

So, what does a plan based on current realities (ie, no or very little BECCS) mean for the likes of Fonterra?

Well, their milk drying facilities will have to switch to solar, wind or water or else shut down. Under a regime of rapid carbon cuts, dairy won’t survive at its present scale. For dairy to survive, all the pasture preparation and care, all the milking, all the transportation of cows, final product and importation of feed stuff, plus whatever other energy related aspects of dairy production there are, will all have to shift to energy sourced from water, wind or solar power by the 2040s.

The same goes for all other industries and for society as a whole.

So perhaps that is why government policies around global warming don’t and won’t acknowledge the obvious issue of carbon emissions and our need to cut them. It destroys our current economy and means we have to make huge changes to the ways we live.

Far better then to insist on “affordability” and “cost effectiveness” (as the IPCC explicitly demands); to fold the whole very real issue of climate change into the theoretical concerns of chrematistic economics and assume the ‘invisible hand’ of the market is gainfully clasped and going to ensure the delivery of some impossible nonsense to the corporeal realm. And if when it doesn’t, well it’s only billions of people not living in rich countries who die.

Initially.

35 comments on “Bio-fuels.”

  1. Rosemary McDonald 1

    “So perhaps that is why government policies around global warming don’t and won’t acknowledge the obvious issue of carbon emissions and our need to cut them. It destroys our current economy and means we have to make huge changes to the ways we live.”

    And that, after over an hour discussing this post of yours Bill, is the most obvious and workable solution.

    Destroy the current economy, (it aint working for most of us anyway), and make those huge changes to the way we live.

    And for one “for instance”….considering most of us are struggling to pay rent and power and food is so expensive…look at the piles and piles of crap folk but from the likes of the Warehouse. Most of it is rubbish, built in obsolescence. Yes it affords a short term glow of buyer gratification, but we can (and some of us have ) learned to live without that. But we have been brought up to consume…to the point where not consuming is considered anti-social.

    • One Two 1.1

      Hi Rosemary…

      Yes it is the way to go..

      As you point out, the collapse is already in play, and life support of the current dominant ideology can’t be left on permanently…despite efforts to do so, it will ‘die’…

      Best to take a measure of control…

      Not that the westminster system will ‘lead’…

      As others here point out…disengage and take back control at the individual and community level..

    • Bill 1.2

      What can I say besides the obvious?

      I’m humbled and gratified a post I submitted generated lengthy thought/discussion Rosemary.

      • Rosemary McDonald 1.2.1

        Am I being a bit sensitive, or are you taking the piss?

        Seriously, we did (‘we’ being self and relative with PhD in chemistry etc with a special interest in exactly this issue) read your post, followed your links, had a rather heated discussion and decided that we could tinker around the edges (if we ever decided exactly which measure of CO2 emissions per country etc was accurate or even honest) and try to mitigate climate change within the current economic and political structures and we decided that no, it simply couldn’t be done.

        So we cut to the chase.

        It’s rampant consumerism and capitalism that has brought us to this…do we put out the fire with more gasoline? (pun intended)

        • weka 1.2.1.1

          Nice one.

          (I think Bill was being genuine. For me, that people talk about a post in their lives away from TS is one of the best compliments).

          • Rosemary McDonald 1.2.1.1.1

            “For me, that people talk about a post in their lives away from TS is one of the best compliments).”

            Some posts simply have to be discussed outside of TS else it all gets a bit echo chamberish.

            Bill always puts up challenging posts, and those that question the argument that ‘science can fix this’ always get talked about if the family Scientists are around.

            There’s a lot that science can do to mitigate CC, but not if its profit driven.

            Pure and un- corrupted- by -profit -and -politics science is fast becoming a distant memory.

            • weka 1.2.1.1.1.1

              So good to hear that. Few people I know in RL want to talk politics at that level. Nor CC. That includes lots of hippies who should know better but are in a different kind of denial (they know CC is happening but are focussed on their lives).

              • Rosemary McDonald

                Superficiality rules.

                It makes a comfortable cushion, and who can resist this earworm…?

        • adam 1.2.1.2

          Rosemary McDonald, what you wrote was bloody brilliant.

          I don’t think Bill was taking the piss, he way more vicious when he in that mode.

          Capitalism has got to go.

          a wee video if you have the time. 8:45 – it’s mainly talking, so I’d do somthing else and listen, don’t really need pictures.

          top ten capitalist arguments.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI6a7WySFsU&ab_channel=LibertarianSocialistRants

          • Rosemary McDonald 1.2.1.2.1

            adam…thanks for that…your viewing recommendations are usually worth watching…although I still haven’t watched anything that has sorted out (in my mind) what’s the fuck is going on in Syria.

            • Brigid 1.2.1.2.1.1

              The sources i rely on re Syria and I don’t give a fuck that others don’t trust my sources (not directed at you, but others), are Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, Tim Anderson, Fares Shehabi – Member of the Syrian parliament for Aleppo , Chairman of the Syrian Federation of Industry., Pierre Le Corf, George Galloway, Tim Hayward, Piers Robinson,

        • Bill 1.2.1.3

          Hi Rosemary. I’m not “ripping the piss”. The comment is genuine and sincere.

          • Rosemary McDonald 1.2.1.3.1

            Hi Bill…I thought perhaps you might have seen it as a simple and maybe un- thought through response to your very serious post.

            This stuff sometimes scares me and mine shitless…no bs…one of mine has nightmares occasionally about the ‘end’…the nightmares usually involve burning.

            We must try and undo what has brought this about.

            First thing…ditch the TPPA Latest version…?

    • weka 1.3

      If there are middle class people involved in the discussion maybe seed this idea from sustainability systems designer David Holgmren – it might take as little as 5% of the middle classes withdrawing their support (including investments) from the global economy to start the collapse.


      David’s argument is essentially that radical, but achievable, behaviour change from dependent consumers to responsible self-reliant producers (by some relatively small minority of the global middle class) has a chance of stopping the juggernaut of consumer capitalism from driving the world over the climate change cliff. It maybe a slim chance, but a better bet than current herculean efforts to get the elites to pull the right policy levers; whether by sweet promises of green tech profits or alternatively threats from mass movements shouting for less consumption.

      https://www.holmgren.com.au/crash-demand/?v=3a1ed7090bfa

      If that’s too scary for people, they can read these things that would make the transition easier and give the middle classes a way to swap consumer/investor security for sustainability security,

      https://thestandard.org.nz/powerdown/

      https://thestandard.org.nz/climate-change-actions-for-the-middle-classes/

  2. alwyn 2

    “If the branches are coming from a plantation and not some natural woodland/forest or bush, then the process isn’t carbon neutral.”.
    I really can’t see any difference, in the long run, between a plantation and natural bush.
    In both cases surely the trees take up carbon dioxide, turn it into wood and store it, at least for a while.

    A plantation is normally all felled at one time. The wood is all harvested at that time and after that it will be replanted. It will then go through the process again.
    A forest will not all be felled at one moment. It will however sooner or later reach a state of equilibrium where the amount of timber dying and rotting away, and releasing carbon dioxide, will be equal to the amount of new growth that is taking up carbon. No forest has trees that continue to expand forever.

    It is certainly true that a forest may keep more carbon out of the atmosphere as it will generally remain with more timber present than the average amount from a plantation but apart from that different average level there is no real difference if things are looked at over a long time span. I would suggest that even with the longest lived New Zealand trees this would be no more than a few hundred years before decay was equal to growth.
    I would in fact be inclined to think that the average density over the lifetime of a Pinus Radiata plantation may be greater than that of a native Rimu forest. The trees seem to be solider and closer together. That is only a guess by the way. I really don’t know the amount of lumber/hectare in either case.

    How is one case really different to the other?

    • Bill 2.1

      Putting aside all the fossil use in harvesting and transportation of a plantation, and also putting aside weather coming off the back of climate change that may have the capacity to wipe out vast standings of trees ( whether plantation or forest) my thinking goes along the lines that a natural woodland is a “full-stop” on emissions (that reaches an equilibrium and represents a given amount of sequestered carbon), while a plantation is a deliberately conscious “comma” on emissions (that is never allowed to reach or maintain a state of equilibrium and that can only ever represent a temporary amount of sequestered carbon).

      Once the emissions associated with harvesting are put back in the mix, then alongside the spike in GHG emissions that comes from ploughing hillsides in preparation for planting and all the other variable ecological damage from disruptive monoculture….

      How long term are we looking btw? How many times can a pine plantation be re-established without applying fertilisers? And in the absence of fossil fuels to run aircraft, how is that fertiliser spread?

      • Rosemary McDonald 2.1.1

        “How many times can a pine plantation be re-established without applying fertilisers? ”

        In the early days of planting pine plantations leguminous crops were planted between to trees to fix nitrogen.

        https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-009-6878-3_8

        https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=c8TtCAAAQBAJ&pg=PA238&lpg=PA238&dq=legumes+in+pine+plantations+for+nitrogen+fixing&source=bl&ots=qnFQ2Rq19M&sig=jEST8-HA4SF6tmiDEC2C80Ccx_A&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiT2bC8mp3ZAhVByrwKHZT1DmMQ6AEIRzAE#v=onepage&q=legumes%20in%20pine%20plantations%20for%20nitrogen%20fixing&f=false

        Today, I understand, the land gets a dusting before the next trees are planted.

        If the wood waste was burned for energy, the remaining ash could be used for fertiliser.

      • Chuck 2.1.2

        With comparing the different forms of “renewable energy,” the total CO2 amounts emitted throughout a systems life must be calculated. Emissions can be both direct, and indirect – arising during other non-operational phases of the life cycle.

        Non-fossil fuel-based technologies such as wind, PV solar, hydro, biomass (as you point out Bill), wave/tidal etc. are often referred to as low carbon or carbon neutral because they do not emit CO2 during there operation. However during – extraction of raw materials, construction, maintenance and decommissioning they emit CO2.

        PV solar is one of the worst (other than fossil fuels) in total life cycle CO2 emissions.

        • Bill 2.1.2.1

          A rudimentary google search suggests that on a life cycle basis PV CO2 ranges from 12g – 24g per kWh of electricity. The footprint occurs in the manufacturing phase.

          By sometime in the 2040s, we have to be at zero CO2 from all sources of energy.

          That means that for electricity generated from water, solar and wind, the manufacturing of those sources (from mining and transport of any raw materials through fabrication and placement) needs to use no carbon based form of energy.

          And at that point the carbon footprint of those technologies drops to zero.

          So solar panel manufacturing facilities run on water? Mining carried out without fossil – perhaps on-site charging facilities for large batteries (there are batteries powering ferries these days)? Large loads such as multi tonne wind generators moved by dirigible?

          Whatever possible solutions there are, we have a finite carbon budget left for this century in terms of 2 degrees, and we’ve been spending it far too fast (it’ll run out sometime around mid-century at current rates).

          So how should we spend it?

          On bullshit consumer goods and all round carbon profligate lifestyles? Or should we be mindful and put what’s left to practical use?

          Capitalism doesn’t survive global warming in the event we do nothing about warming. And capitalism doesn’t survive global warming if we reduce our CO2 in line with the science (deep economic depression results from the required carbon reduction rates spinning out capitalist economic settings).

          It’s a no-brainer then. We should be getting on with it.

          Our political classes would have us choose in favour of carrying on along the path we’re on. 30 years of their inaction and bullshit stands as testament to that. So we have another problem besides the actual warming – institutional ineptitude and inertia.

    • David Mac 2.2

      200 years before decay? I would of gone along with that before discovering that Tane Mahuta is over 2000 years old. He was a seedling when Jesus was walking about. Reaching decay now, the other neat Tane Mahuta fact is that there are 58 different species living on and drawing nourishment from him.

      • Pat 2.2.1

        PV solar is one of the worst (other than fossil fuels) in total life cycle CO2 emissions.”

        You got any links that support?…my quick search suggests the level of emissions varies greatly manufacturer to manufacturer and country to country and is almost impossible to quantify

      • alwyn 2.2.2

        Well yes, but the fact that that tree is famous is because trees that age are very rare.
        I was just making a guess, and it really is just a guess about the typical time that a forest keep increasing in biomass. Lots of trees, and the various species living on Tane Mahuta of course, would have gone through many generations while it was living.

      • Brigid 2.2.3

        https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-10-02-2018/#comment-1446175

        And don’t forget ‘would have’ not ‘could of’.

  3. Barfly 3

    ” Fonterra switching its milk powder plants from coal to wood isn’t carbon neutral ”

    Would you agree that using wood that you grow burn (rinse /repeat) will have significantly lower net carbon emissions than digging up coal that has been in the ground for millions of years and burning that?

    • Bill 3.1

      Sure. But in the absence of significant BECCS capabilities –

      That only leaves, at best, a very short window for utilising any type of bio-fuel by way of a stop gap measure as we come off of carbon fuel sources. Zero is zero. There is no such thing as “good” carbon and “bad” carbon, where “good” carbon somehow doesn’t count in the scheme of things.

    • Bill 3.2

      I should add that it’s not a given (that wood has a lower footprint than coal).

      Drax coal fired powerstation in the UK moved to woodchip. Trainloads of the stuff was delivered every day. It was meant to be sustainable (residue and off-cuts). In reality, the everglades in the US were strip mined, processed and dumped onto tankers to be taken over the Atlantic before being loaded onto trains…

      The required amount of woodchip was so vast that the US overtook Canada as a wood exporter.

      There was a documentary on it which is worth the time if you can find it. It looked at Drax and southern France where a similar move was being contemplated for one of their large power stations. The numbers, volumes and extent of environmental destruction was frightening.

  4. cleangreen 4

    Bill;

    It would also be smart to use electric freight locomotives that don’t use tyres that are made from oil also here, and use five to eight times less fuel per tonne carried per km than road based truck freight uses.

    http://www.kiwirail.co.nz/uploads/Publications/The%20Value%20of%20the%20Rail%20in%20New%20Zealand.pdf

    One truck pollutes the environment 100 times more than one car. (NIWA stat’s)

  5. Sparky 5

    You have to be careful about bio-fuels labelling. Its a bit like political parties claiming to be left wing when their actions clearly show they are not.

    But hey it makes people feel good and silences less astute critics.

  6. Andre2 6

    Meanwhile we have record sales of the biggest cars , record km driven and record fuel consumed emissions up 23% and the Greens reduced to the threshold of oblivion .
    Greed of today’s inhabitants of paradise NZ has won and a shit is not been given .

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