Why oh why oh biofuels

Sheen says:


It was just four or five years ago that a handful of mostly German and American agro-businessmen were proudly announcing they’d solved the problem of fossil fuel shortages, promising farmers profitable harvests and assuring us their new discovery was as environmentally friendly as you could get.


How could they be so cynical? How could we be so blind?


Food crops were ripped up to make room for plants to be grown as fuel and forests were razed to plant more and more of this magical greenery. The result: less food and decimated rain forests. And hey, guess what, when you burn maize and sugar beet to bet ethanol, you still produce smoke, so you get pollution into the bargain.


Thank God there seems to be unanimity about this nonsense and it ought to be nipped in the bud, but are we saying that biofuels, agro-fuels and the whole biomass thing needs to be banned or phased out? Whoooooooah, not necessarily, it depends what you burn…


The most common biofuels are maize (known in the US as corn because they don’t know what corn is), palm oil, rape and sugar beet. These are believed to be the most cost-effective, kilowatt of power per acre, but their cultivation and conversion into energy are causing havoc.


However, all is not lost. There is one plant that could, possibly, offer a way out. It’s an unassuming variety of cactus, kotschoubeyanus albiflorus, which is only to be found on the rocky coast of Somalia, where it’s known as Abeegi. Scientists from the University of Arizona have successfully cultivated this cactus in American deserts and studied its behaviour. Their findings are remarkable. Given the right conditions, this cactus can  double in size every 24 hours, lives just a couple of weeks (by which time it is almost two metres high) and when it dies and is left in the desert to dry out, has the amazing capacity to burn with practically no carbon emissions.


The energy it produces when burning is greater than any biofuel used up till now.


Professor George Carmichael, of Arizona University’s Plant Technology Unit, says that finding enough land with the right conditions for Abeegi to grow should not be a problem, and he even suggests the Sahara Desert. “Very little water is called for, just give it plenty of sun and cool nights and you’ve got a bumper harvest of the stuff”, he declares.


Sound too good to be true? Tests are still under way, and several American and German companies are already rubbing their hands. Authorities in Libya and Chad have expressed an interest in this cactifuel, which could mean cheap, clean energy without impinging on any arable land. We await further developments in this field, and remember, you heard it here first.    


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