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Its been said, "You can do a smart thing stupidly." Its time we started being smart about biofuels, transportation and agriculture.


Guidance on collaborative pilot

This is a pilot test of a new, collaborative approach for getting work done in the Climate CoLab. It will run during March and April of 2012.

Just like in the 2011 activities, anyone can create a proposal. But there is also a community proposal, where members are encouraged to work together in a collaborative way. Any member can contribute to the community proposal as long as they are logged in.

The community proposal is like a wiki, so the history of edits is tracked, and you can revert to prior versions of the proposal if desired.

Please also use the Comments to express your opinion on whether or not you would like to see this collaborative approach used in the Climate CoLab in 2012.

Feel free to organize the proposal as you see fit. One thought—it's good to have a brief summary of the overall proposal at the top, as an aid to readers.

Proposal Text


Using the US as a model, proven technology can create a system that creates carbon neutral or even carbon negative transportation without having any negative impacts.

This system relies on "Multi-use crops" to obtain biofuels without impacting food production or wilderness space.  In short, when you produce fuel ethanol from corn, a biproduct is high quality animal feed. Most of the corn grown in North America is used for animal feed and all of the animal feed corn could be turned into ethanol AND animal feed.  If this were done, combined with the ethanol that is already produced, the US would produce enough ethanol to offset 10% of its gasoline usage, all from crops and land that are already being grown and used.  We just use them more efficiently.

While corn seems like a good choice, it is only a starting point, since it is already there.  There are many crops that could replace corn, produce the required amount of animal feed and produce more ethanol.  Selecting the right one would allow the US to create 50% of its gasoline-equivalent needs and its livestock feed from the cropland currently being used.  

While ethanol has been down played as an alternative fuel due to it's low energy content (compared to gas), in an engine specifically designed for ethanol, it can achieve much better fuel economy.  If the US phased in efficient, ethanol cars, the national mpg number would double.  This would eliminate the need for gasoline in the transportation sector of the entire US, using currently farmed land, while still producing animal feed.  

The cycle closes when manure from animal farms is all used in digesters to produce methane for energy.  The solids from the digesters can be used to replace chemical fertilzers for the feed/ethanol crop  and to create biochar, another solid amendment.

Fueling farm equipment with biofuel or on-board gasifiers, would nearly eliminate all of the carbon footprint from the crop end of the production.  

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from transportation

What actions do you propose?

  1. The current ethanol production capacity of the US needs to double in the next few years, preferably locating new plants adjacent to existing beef finishing farms (feedlots) or dairy farms.
  2. Every beef finishing and dairy farms needs to build an anaerobic digester and a biochar reactor to create energy and soil amendments from animal waste. 
  3. The standard animal feed in the US needs to shift from corn to Dried Distillers Grains or DDS (ethanol biproduct).
  4. A suitable alternative to corn needs to be identified as an ideal ethanol/animal feed crop and it must become the standard crop.  I recommend sunchokes as a start.
  5. Once a better crop is being phased into production, the ethanol capacity needs to be further increased by a factor of five. 
  6. The animal feed/ethanol farming fleet needs to be fitted with onboard gasifiers to create energy from non-useful parts of the crop, like corn stover, to eliminate the need for fossil fuels in harvesting.  
  7. Highly efficient ethanol vehicles need to be produced an phased into the fleet.   
  8. The number of ethanol fuel sales sights needs to be increased as the supply grows and the market expands. 
  9. Currently there are only two uses out of the animal feed/ethanol crop, to be true multi-use, more must be added.  These need to be identified and implemented, like making biodiesel from the seed oil from sunchokes before making ethanol and animal feed from the rest of the plant.

Who will take these actions?

This plan requires cooperation between the animal feed industry (4,6) (AKA corn industry), the meat growing industry (2,3), the energy industry, the auto industry (7), the ethanol industry (1,5), the fuel industry (8), the agriculture equipment industry (6) and the scientific community (9). 

Where will these actions be taken?

  1. As stated, ideally the new plants will be built close to existing feed lots to minimize transportation of raw materials.
  2. Again, the digesters and biochar reactors will be onsite at feed lots throughout the country .
  3. This will happen nation wide at all finishing farms
  4. The new crops will be identified at experiemental farms, and roled out through the country.
  5. Again, ethanol production expansion will ideally happen adjacent to feedlots across the country.
  6. This change will happen across the country at animal feed farms.
  7. Developing ethanol vehicles will happen at automaker's development labs.
  8. New ethanol pumps will appear across the country at existing fuel stations.
  9. Developing more co-uses from crops will happen at research facilities .

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Assuming the fossil fuel based energy used in the production of the fuel and transportation of the products and feedstock is offset by the energy produced from the digesters, biochar reactors and onboard gasifiers making the net CO2 produced due to the manufacture of the ethanol (ie the process is carbon neutral) this plan will prevent the release of 1.6 billion tons of CO2 annually.  

What are other key benefits?

Aside from carbon neutral fuel, the wild spread use of biochar as a soil amendment will act as a carbon sink (meaning its carbon negative), will increase crop productivity and decrease the watering requirements. (biochar improves soil moisture retension).

Turning manure into energy and soil amendment turns a major problem in to a major asset.

Feeding DDS to cows increase milk production, weight gain rate and overall animal welfare while also reducing cow related methane emissions (a major greenhouse gas source).

Every makes more money because crops are worth more, but biproducts are worth more too.

Many jobs get created in this scheme, jobs at every level.

What are the proposal’s costs?

This is a big proposal, and it will cost a lot of money.  On the order of $100 billion dollars for ethanol plants alone. However, all of the money spent is an investment in either production capacity (building ethanol plants, or ethanol cars) or cost savings (onboard gasifiers for tractors, methane digesters).

Time line

The first step of this proposal, building ethanol plants to process all of the corn, building digesters and biochar reactors, onboard gasifiers should happen as soon as possible.  It will probably take 2-4 years to do it all, building an ethanol plant can take a long time.

Finding a suitable alternative to corn and building the additional ethanol capacity will take 5-7 years.  Also we should begin to see the first high mileage ethanol cars on the market.  

In ten years there will have been enoughtime to change the fleet to be all ethanol vehicles.  

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