Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A civilization powered by burning biomass, or burning time in a Kilgore Trout science fiction?

This is a post I started as a comment at Polinaut, but my hyperlinks (for context) got stripped from the comment I posted:

Yesterday there was a great little presentation by the DNR at Bemidji's Center for Research and Innovation on woody biomass harveting and utilization.

One of the interesting tidbits of information was that the Laurentian Energy Corporation plants in Hibbing and Virginia which were initially intended to be "closed loop" and producing on land they managed all of the biomass they burned, simply caused the legislature to change the definition of "closed loop" to deal with the reality that it would have required a hundred times more acreage planted with hybrid poplar to meet the demand for burnable biomass. I think hybrid popular is a bad idea. I like coppicing :)

Another frightening reality demonstrating the distance between the hype about renewable fuels and the support by the MN State legislature and other politicians is that the only meaningful incentive for woody biomass utilization in Minnesota was a 1994 deal that involved Northern States Power storage of spent fuel in dry casks at Prairie Island.

Its the beginning of a great story, or for the education of who ever is going to write stump speeches and policy documents for Klobuchar, Bell, and the other Senate candidates. Actually I think Bell was already talking about this in the debates before caucuses. Scored some points with a few loggers up this way...


It seems like the talk about and the practise of renewable fuels are seperated by a huge funding gap, and a gap in practical experience. While the unpopular DFL senate candidate Rattay(sp?) did talk a little about water as a potential source of energy in Minnesota (we have lots of it, we should just turn Lake Superior into hydrogen fuel, he seemed to say), we do have limits on what we can do with our forest lands, agricultural land, etc. While burning biomass is potentially ecologically risky and is exaggerated in eco-friendliness or carbon-neutrality, it is less risky that relying on energy sources abroad or trying to power our civilization on empty talk about gas prices or uninformed pontificating about the unfunded potential of sustainable or renewableenergy sources. Until the voting public votes in more effective and more informed representatives into high high office, conservation of ernergy is the only practical strategy. Stop driving if gas prices are too high, and in September, vote for Ford Bell for the DFL Senate candidate as he is more likely to start funding solutions and stop blowing hot air.

I wish I could find a good quote from Vonnegut's Jailbird, from the Kilgore Trout story about a civilization that powered itself by burning time, by burning its very future. We do that, in a sense, when we talk in circles and believe in pipe dreams without taking real steps forward with carefully balanced consideration of the hazards of global warming, of biodiversity loss, of bread and butter economic issues for loggers and energy plant workers.

In addition to finding new energy sources, we need to find replacements for petrochemicals like synthetic rubber and plastics. Biorefining is part of the solution, and I believe we can do that better if we understand existing biodiversity, and not by splicing genes into bacteria, corn, or cattails.

Feel free to recommend me for a MacAurthur genius grant, and I promise I will work on part of the solution, at least part time. I will have to spend some small fraction of the award in the spotlight, before the microphone, and dancing in European discos with voluptuous pornstars, and for a short time pretend as if I had been elected to Congress ; )

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