I commented on Air NZ’s stunt and also about jatropha and why it won’t work as a bio-fuel. You all probably don’t know this but I have conducted extensive research into the commercial viability of bio-fuels in New Zealand. It isn’t scientific research. That is pretty much a given, you CAN make bio-fules out of suitable feedstocks of bio-mass. The research I did was whether you SHOULD financially.
I have extensive spreadsheets worked on by several accountants with differing business models from small boutique bio-fuel plants up to multi-million dollar ones. Not one single one of these models makes money, ever, unless heavily subsidised either via the farce that are carbon credits or direct government subsidy. Basically you go broke slowly or quickly depending on the scale.
The other factors I looked at were whether or not is was feasible to get feedstocks in New Zealand or from overseas, in both cases the answer was it wasn’t. In only one instance is bio-fuels feasible and it is at its most rudimenatary. For small villages/schools etc in the pacific islands with ready access to coconuts over and above their copra income. I am working with an aid agency for free on a cost effective setup for small bio-fuel self sustainability models and have got one plant up and running on Santo in Vanuatu for a school.
Bruce Simpson has also looked at this situation and in relation to Air NZ’s little stunt which upon a little investigation turns out to be little more than a fraud on the New Zealand public.
So inspite of all the caterwauling from Green numpties the simple and plain inescapable facts about using bio-mass for bio-fuel is that it is complete bollocks and will NEVER work, EVER.
Bruce explains simply, for the congenitally stupid (Clinton Smith) and extremely dim-witted (Jeanette Fitzsimons);
So where does the biofuel component come from?
Apparently it’s a plant called jatropha (Wikipedia) which is virtually a weed in some places.
The seeds of this plant are rich in an oil that can be used as a biofuel to replace products such as diesel. In fact, some countries (such as the Philippines and India) already use jatropha oil as a supplement to their diesel.
Sounds great eh?
Even better, this plant will grow (like a weed) in poor soils so it need not displace food crops in many areas.
So what could possibly be wrong with Jatropha?
Well unfortunately (wouldn’t you know it), some of the downsides of this route to biofuel have been carefully overlooked by Air NZ’s PR people when they wrote their wonderful press release.
For a start, Jatropha is actually toxic. This pretty much explains why it’s so resistant to pests — nothing really wants to eat a plant that will kill it.
And then there’s the issue of soil depletion…
Yes, jatropha will grow in poor soils but in doing so, it strips that soil of the few nutrients available.
Over the break I heard an Air NZ spokesperson saying that this was a great fuel because it also meant that poor countries like Africa could earn money from it. Unfortunately, those are also countries which are dramatically short of food for their people.
The problem with this is that some of these regions only have poor soils so jatropha, if grown on a commercial basis, will still displace food crops and by stripping the soil of much-needed nutrients, will make it even harder for those people to grow the food they need.
When you look at the sheer area of land required to produce allow even tiny amounts of this stuff to be used in jet-fuel, the picture gets worse.
Do you know how much jet fuel the world’s airlines consume each year?
Well, in 2006, it was an astonishing 230 billion litres! (extrapolated from the figures in this press release).
If you do the math… replacing just 10% of this dino-based jet fuel with jatropha oil would require the sequestering of some 460 million hectares (assuming 500-l/hectare) (or 4.6 million square kilometres) of land just for crop production.
Hands up anyone who knows the area of the continent of Africa….
Well, according to this reference it’s a paltry 30 million square kilometres.
That’s 15% of the total landmass of the content of Africa that would need to be set-aside to provide just 10% of the 2006 demand for Jet-A1.
If you eliminate those areas that are simply too arid for jatropha and those which are home to important animal species, it’s likely that this 15% would rise to 30% or more.
What would the creation of such a huge monoculture do to the continent’s environment?
And what would we do once the soil in those areas became so depleted that it was no longer able to sustain even jatropha as a crop?
I’m sorry but from the research I’ve done, jatropha might be a useful localised fuel-supplement (as in India and the Philippines) but it’s not going to provide any sensible replacement for jet fuel.
See, and if it doesn’t wok for jatropha it doesn’t work for any other crop as essentially jatropha is the top of the heap when it comes to oil per hectare. Essentially the only thing that beats that is Algae and the technology for producing massive amounts of algae-based oil is simply not up to it.
I am happy to share my research with anyone who cares to ask.