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Annie Nelson on the ‘Fuel That Doesn’t Kill Us’

Posted on Jan 28, 2007
Willie Nelson
AP Photo / Denis Poroy

Singer Willie Nelson holds up the pump nozzle before filling his bus with Bio Willie diesel fuel at the Pearson Ford alternative fuel station in San Diego in 2006. Nelson was unveiling the first pump in California dispensing his brand of 20 percent biodiesel fuel.

By Joshua Scheer

Annie Nelson, wife of Willie Nelson and co-chairperson of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, speaks to Truthdig about stomaching the State of the Union and the myth that alternative fuels are years away.

Truthdig: Did you see the State of the Union? 

Nelson: Yeah, I stomached as much as I could. 

Truthdig: Did you see what the president said about ethanol? ...  He did say one sentence or one line about biodiesel.  Did any of that resonate with you? 

Nelson: Yeah, about as much as it did the last time he said it. I mean, it’s all a bit of—it’s just talk. You know, they give 13 gazillion dollars to the oil and gas industry as some welfare for these people who are making phenomenal historic record-breaking profits, and less than—I think it’s 7.7 [billion] for research into alternative fuels which are already here. It’s lip service. It’s all lip service. 


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Truthdig: And what’s your involvement in biodiesel? 

Nelson: Pretty much we’re proponents. I don’t know how else to say it. We’re in production. We have partnerships with Pacific Biodiesel Texas and Pacific Biodiesel, and we are doing community production of biodiesel. And our intent is to keep them community [based] and then promote that idea where each community ... can and should create their own fuel, and let that be the market for the community. 

Truthdig: What is biodiesel? 

Nelson: It is the fuel that obviously powers—I’m going to go real elementary, right? 

Truthdig: Yeah. 

Nelson: The fuel that powers a diesel engine. Biodiesel needs to run in a diesel engine, and what it does—where it comes from are several sources. It can come from recycled cooking oil, which then keeps that junk out of landfills; several plant seed stocks from seeds and those types of things; the rendering of animals, just you name it.  There are tons of ways to get it. There’s a process where they remove the glycerin—that’s biodiesel. You can put pure cooking oil into your car, but you have to have a converter inside of it. But just any regular diesel [vehicle] can run on biodiesel because it’s been refined, which means the glycerin has been taken out. 

Truthdig: So ... you can actually drive on recycled cooking oil? 

Nelson: Yes, the diesel engine was designed to run on peanut and hemp oil, not petroleum. But then again Rudolf Diesel disappeared over the Atlantic. It never was intended to run on petroleum, and in fact I think an interesting connection is if you go—if you check out the Prohibition era, when the government was going after stills that were on farms and such, a lot of those stills were producing ethanol and biodiesel for—mainly ethanol—for farm production, for their machinery. That’s what happened. There were so many people involved in it, in that whole deal, that Prohibition was probably a whole lot less about alcohol and a whole lot more about killing the renewable energy possibilities. Obviously the petroleum companies were behind it. 

Truthdig: What’s the difference between biodiesel and ethanol? 

Nelson: Well, ethanol is almost like—and I’m not an expert on ethanol at all, so let me just put that disclaimer in there immediately—it’s more like a grain alcohol, almost. It’s from sugar. It’s a plant that needs to have a particular cellulose to create a gasoline-type fuel. But it’s mainly turning the sugar into fuel. 

Truthdig: With ethanol we know how much money has been given to Iowa and other states where ethanol is being produced. On, they say there’s no government program to support them [correction]. Do you have an opinion on that? 

Nelson: is an actual biodiesel board and there are many others. They’re just one entity, and they’re fine. They tend to have a lot more large producers and a lot of soybean people. Our whole deal, and we just actually formed—Daryl Hannah and I are co-chairs and Kelly King and Laura Louie, who is Woody Harrelson’s wife, and a group of us just formed the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, where our intent is to focus specifically on sustainable community biodiesel production. And if it ends up being ethanol as well at some future date, that’s fine, but the whole point is to keep it community—to eliminate the ADMs and the Cargills and those people ... large oil companies from just transferring their monopoly on Middle Eastern oil to home-produced, naturally produced fuel. Right now they can ... it’s really a matter of connecting the farm bill with our national security bills and those types of things without allowing one group or one industry to control our energy, whether it be from the Middle East or from our own country. If it’s domestically produced, that should be domestically distributed as well. We’re here to protect the family farmers and the community co-ops that want to produce their own fuel and sell it. 

Truthdig: Are there stations where people can fill up? One of the problems with ethanol has been transporting it and getting it to the public. 

Nelson: People actually produce it all over the country. We do our tours through this whole country, and we do it on biodiesel. At least a blend. At minimum, it’s a blend of biodiesel. We try to do 100 percent whenever we can…. So, it’s out there. It’s already available. The funny thing about why $7.7 billion was given to renewable fuels—and that 7.7 is spread out between wind and geothermal and biomass and ethanol and biodiesel and others—that’s spread out amongst all of them. When 13 point something billion is given to the oil and gas industry and coal, and then another 12 to nuclear. So it’s kind of serious, but instead of doing that, let each community—that’s our deal—to connect communities and make sure that they can produce their own fuels so they’re not dependent on one of these corporations that have already proven that they could care less about these people’s interests, and do their own. Make their own fuel. Make their own security, which gives everybody in this country security because not one person or organization is controlling the market. What’s the difference between OPEC and a group of American oil companies who control our prices? 

Truthdig: There’s a list of gas stations on and a few other of these sites…. 

Nelson: There are gas stations. What they have a list of is people who are members. There are other people besides them—many, many other people that are producing biodiesel. When we put the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance online, it will be to help people connect to where they can get fuel around the country and, at the same time, promote community-based fueling stations where people can pull off the highway and fill up with whatever blend they need or 100 percent. So that is something that just hasn’t been put together. That’s what we’re going for. It exists out there—a lot of people making fuel. We’re some of them. In fact, if there was even more help, this would go big guns, but it also takes the profit away from some people that are in control right now. 

Truthdig: During the State of the Union, the president said he would try and reduce foreign fuel by [20] percent by 2017. You’re saying…. 

Nelson: We’re already doing it. There are so many people already doing it. In fact, taking people and putting them back on land. Even if we just put them back on their land and let them buy their farms back. Put them back on land that’s sitting fallow right now. Let them grow food for ourselves and fuel. Then each community would start thriving again. You’ve got people out of the city, so there would be less congestion in the city. People on land, where they’re not [driven] insane by the inner city, where that’s not where they belong anyway. Put them back on the land, let them grow our fuel, let them grow our food, have it be sustainably grown, and then we eliminate—well, first we would eliminate, by getting them out of the city, the congestion of carbon fibers in the air, plus if they’re going to be using renewable fuels—and specifically I can speak for biodiesel, if up to 100 percent, you can eliminate 99 percent of particulates in the air.

So why wouldn’t we do that? People don’t want to be in the city, people want to be on their land; they never wanted to leave it to begin with. They got thrown off their land because the market is manipulated. So we put them back on it and allow them to earn ownership—we did that in the  ‘30s—but allow them to earn their ownership back, and let them produce food and fuel for us—fuel that doesn’t kill us, and grow it sustainably so it doesn’t kill the water and everything around us either. It doesn’t make sense not to. Then you have thriving communities ... when you put people back on the land then you need a grocery store, you need businesses that sustain those people. They have to buy their farm products somewhere, they have to buy their feed somewhere, when you get them back out there, you get those communities thriving again, and the heartbeat of America gets a little defibrillation—and certainly the economy. How is that bad? It’s not. It’s good for everybody; it’s just not great for those few who want it to be just good for them.

Annie Nelson is the wife of Willie Nelson and the co-chairperson of the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance Inc. She is a supporter of sustainable, community-based biodiesel production as a method for restoring the dignity of small family farmers, the environment, the economy, energy independence and U.S. national security.

Correction (revised): Scheer says says it gets no government support, but the website actually refers to at least one government program and legislation it finds favorable.

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By caravan insurance, November 24, 2011 at 2:14 am Link to this comment

I learn from the article that Biodiesel is needed to run in a diesel engine and it comes from recycled cooking oil. Cheap caravan insurance can be bought after researching on the prices.

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By ECU Remapping, June 24, 2011 at 12:45 am Link to this comment

Sustainable bio-diesel is the way to go. Apart from all the good it can do for our environment, it could eventually end all the constant bantering of the gas prices in future.

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By poetryman69, April 29, 2008 at 3:25 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anyone who wants cheaper fuel prices needs to ask his representatives
at the local, state, and federal levels, what are their plans and
policies for Energy Independence.  If they don’t have any, don’t
vote for them.  They are costing you money and in the future they
may cost you your freedom.  We need to stop paying dictators,
terrorists, and tyrants oil money.  We have all the coal, oil,
nuclear power, and liquid natural gas we need to be come
energy independent.  In addition, a healthy investment in
alternative sources will keep Energy Independent for the
foreseeable future.  If we aren’t in the business of fighting oil wars, then incentive for a war with Iran goes away.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, March 13, 2008 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment

The sooner we move in that direction the better.

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By Bill Blackolive, March 13, 2008 at 9:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Annie,if Willie could get Dennis K. and others at patriotsquestion9/11 to uproar that Cheney is behind 9/11, the other side would go crazy and the Democrats could get in easily.  Then, there could be more about it without fear of death or being fired etc.

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By Steve Kelley, June 18, 2007 at 3:27 am Link to this comment
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Biomethane is “cleaned-up” biogas that has had nitrogen, H2S and other impurities of biogas removed. Biomethane is a “renewable natural gas” that can be made from most any organic, carbon-based waste material. This is why landfills are being drilled, to capture the Biomethane.

Biomethane is the cleanest burning of all biofuels and at 600-900 btu’s/mcf, replaces expensive, non-renewable natural gas seemlessly - especially when compared with other biofuels.

I agree that we need to produce more B100 Biodiesel -but only when the oilseed crops are grown in a “sustainable” manner.  Which means we don’t displace food crops with oilseed crops…. or when greed kicks in and causes people to deforest the rainforests to plant palm trees so they can produce copious amounts of Crude Palm Oil for producing B100 Biodiesel.

Biomethane is a truly incredible and amazing biofuel!

Recovering Biomethane from organic/carbon-based wastes, as well as the “manure” from wastewater treatment plants and animal operations, via anaerobic digesters, also has the environmental benefit of cleaning the air as Biomethane is about 21-23 times more damaging to the environment as carbon dioxide emissions.

Additionally, the United State Department of Agriculture determined - through the “Billion Ton Study” - that the U.S. is “wasting” over 1 Billion tons of biomass every year, that could be converted to Biomethane through Biomass Gasification. 

Biomethane is also flexible and versatile.  Not only can Biomethane be easily transported to homes and businesses, via America’s vast natural gas pipelines, Biomethane a/k/a “renewable natural gas” can be compressed, “compressed natural gas” to fuel cars or liquefied, as in “liquefied natural gas” to also fuel cars or transported.

Finally, Biomethane, as a renewable fuel, generates incentives such as Renewable Energy Credits, that can help jumpstart the Biomethane industry, which will be much larger than the combined markets and opportunities of B100 Biodiesel and E100 Ethanol combined!

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By Christopher Robin, March 18, 2007 at 7:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Manipulating The Oil Reserve
By Thomas I. Palley
January 26, 2007

“2006 was the year that oil prices came close to breaching $80 per barrel. This was despite the fact that there were no significant supply interruptions and oil demand actually fell in industrialized countries. That raises the question of what caused the spike.

It turns out there is good reason to believe that record oil prices may be due to our own strategic oil reserve, which the Bush administration may have been manipulating to drive up prices for the benefit of its clients. This is something Congress must investigate, and here is some preliminary evidence”

Article Continues: Here

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By HanaDeHaya, March 14, 2007 at 9:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We need a new company car but refuse to buy a new one, until GM, Toyota or Mercedes come out with a large model that seats 6 or 7, and that uses biofuel.  As a company we want to support only environmentally friendly products.

Wish that Willie Nelson sold his fuel on the East Coast.

We urge all companies, all individuals… support this movement!!!!

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By bob, March 11, 2007 at 9:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

this is a complicated interview and i was unable to discover what i was looking for eventhough i know it was there!!

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By Christopher Robin, March 11, 2007 at 7:31 am Link to this comment
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Comment #57661 by Ben Takin on 3/09 at 2:48 pm

The only thing you will see from this administration, is higher gas prices.

^I think your exactly right. Since the lows of 50.00 a barrel early this year. “Decider” made this remark.

“And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.” - Bush 07’ State of the Union speech.

And the price has climbed since.

China and other countries are also filling reserves.

Before the November 06’ elections Bush stopped filling the SPR. Recall the price drop in gasoline?

News story link below:

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By Bert, March 10, 2007 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the sooner that this administration’s over and done with, and we start making our own biofuels at home, the better off we’ll be. Big Oil has called the shots for years and years, but now in the course of the Iraq war, I think more and more people are finally starting to wake up to it and realize it’s time to act and speak out, I certainly feel motivated that way, it’s time for change, more ‘business as usual’ is going to burn down two countries: Ours, and theirs. So, the smart answer is to conserve like hell, and put our efforts into really becoming energy-independent, not only of the middle east, but energy independent, period. It’s past time for other countries to pull their socks up and start working to build their own futures, I think, and likewise time for us to do the same. Globalization was a nice dream, but the reality is that we are going to end up being the next british empire, and I think everyone kind of remembers what happened to them…so, again, the smart money is on the energy independence. I found online info on alcohol stills…still haven’t found out about the permitting, though…but I read somewhere that you can make pretty much an unlimited amount of ethanol for fuel use. Even if you only get 4MPG, hell, you just have to spend more time brewing your own hootch. Life is hard…

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By bill blackolive, March 10, 2007 at 12:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I cannot seem to answer you via truth dig.  I hope you will try me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or or Blackolive, 1776 N. Mccampbell, Aransas Pass, tx 78336 or 361-758-2509.

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By Ben Takin, March 9, 2007 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The only thing you will see from this administration, is higher gas prices.

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By Bill Blackolive, March 9, 2007 at 11:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wish we were let work out all these technical details among ourselves.  Firstly we need be free of the cloud, these rulers.  Could we be bold enough to stomach the 9/ll cover up, start exposing how 3 buildings went down controlled by man, we could break free.  Then we could talk without interference and general balderdash.

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By junofeb, March 7, 2007 at 9:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I know one crop that can do it all…hmmm, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, must I spell out H-E-M-P.
Comment #54920 by Julia James on 2/22 at 1:57 pm: Absolutely correct. Almost 30 years ago I spent a year researching alternitive energy as the research partner of a debate team. Biomass and biomethane is clean and easily obtained thru a number if sustainable ways. Compost from yards, reataurants, farms, and homes could even be used reducing land fill mass. Hemp also has many cooking and edible oil potentials (hemp seeds are delicious and DO NOT get you high…)It needs no fertilizers, can grow in the most marginal land, is pest and disease free….They made marijuana illegal for the same reason they tried prohibition, to keep the land exploitation and power trip going…Thirty years ago, they predicted some kind of massive energy crisis for this period. Reagan (image of european peasant crossing themselves and spitting)ushered in the culture of denial. We could be so much farther. We can do it and no one has to be nailed to a tree or anything(thanks Douglas Adams).... Just Add Hemp! Juno

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By Wade Roberts, March 6, 2007 at 12:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Biofuels are totally counterproductive in terms of stemming global warming, the cause of which is widely misunderstood by the public, laypeople and climate scientists alike.

Human induced global warming and climate change is caused by increased water vapor in the atmosphere and the solar energy sequestered by the latent heat of vaporization from increased agriculture generally and agricultural irrigation specifically, not rising levels of atmospheric CO2.

Farming our fuel exacerbates this problem, it doesn’t mitigate it.  Biofuels are not a solution to global warming and mitigating climate change.

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By Bert, February 27, 2007 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Better pot-heads than warheads…

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By Donovan, February 24, 2007 at 3:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A philosopher once said that every dollar that doesn’t go towards feeding the starving, housing the homeless, etc., is blood money.

Good point, Honkytonk.

Every time I see film footage on Olberman’s Oddball segment about some foreigners throwing food at each other, like the tomatos in Spain, I think, “That food could be sent to Africa.”  Instead of stocking our supermarkets with enough food to maintain a stock on the shelf and in the back room, and then have some left over to throw away as “spoiled,” let’s send some to those who need it.

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By Honkytown, February 23, 2007 at 1:29 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So it has come to this, then: Agriculture for automobiles.

The world’s biggest energy hogs (USA and China) are to grow food crops (corn, cassava, oil palm, etc) so that they can keep their cars running, while people are starving. Way to go, biofuel proponents!

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By Julia James, February 22, 2007 at 2:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Biomethane is the best of all biofuels for multiple reasons.

First of all, there are many more opportunities and applications for “biomethane”
generation and biomethane recovery than there are for ethanol applications or biodiesel.

Catalytic conversion, biomass gasification, thermal gasification, waste
gasification and anaerobic digesters all produce “biomethane” or “synthesis
gas” which is also referred to as “renewable natural gas.”

These technologies that produce Biomethane have a much higher Net Energy Balance
than technologies producing other biofuels, such as E100 Ethanol or B100 Biodiesel.

In the case of ethanol, on average, the Net Energy Balance is about 1.3 - 1.7.

For Biodiesel, the Net Energy Balance is about 3.2 - 3.5.

For Biomethane, I have seen reports that state the Net Energy Balance is about double that of Biodiesel. So this means a Net Energy Balance for Biomethane around 6.5 - 7.0

So, for all of the biofuels, Biomethane production is the one that makes the most
economic and environmental sense.

Next, there are far more applications for Biomethane, one half of all homes and most commercial and industrial businesses already use natural gas. And with the vast delivery system already in place - which is the natural gas pipelines, transmission and distribution pipelines, the infrastructure is already in
place and therefore, Biomethane is much easier to get to market.

Finally, Biomethane (and methane) is 21 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide emissions. So, when Biomethane is recovered or converted, and kept from being introduced into the environment, and is burned for producing useful power or energy, the environment is cleaner and “recycled energy” therefore, becomes sustainable.

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By blueworld, February 18, 2007 at 8:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Part of the paralysis that seems to contaminate discussions of alternative fuels is the underlying assumption that they must be “perfect solutions” - practically perpetual motion machines.

IMHO, humans are not only allowed to leave an enviro-footprint, but we are required to do so in order to fit into the ecosystem.  The problem is that we do everything in a greedy way and in an instant, not allowing nature sufficient time to recover.

We do not have to resort to biofuels as a complete, total comprehensive replacement for petroleum.  That’s a specious argument.

We need to stop pumping crap (scientific term) into the atmosphere while killing forests - we’re giving Mother Earth emphysema.

If we all modify our energy consumption and pursue some model of alternative fuel it will be enough!  It won’t be perfect, but it will be enough! 

Some can use geothermal & greasecars.  Some can use solar & ethanol.  Everyone can change lightbulbs & recycle. 

Lining up thousands of acres to grow corn is absurd.  Ditto for sugarcane.  We use the waste, the wind, the sun and stop driving to the grocery store alone 5 days per week. 

We can do it if we stop demanding perfect solutions & grow it gradually the best we can.

Keep the faith, for pete’s sake & let’s take the babysteps to get us where we want to be!

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By PatrickHenry, February 17, 2007 at 6:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I ‘ve heard the term “fossil fuel” on the post and would like to point out that science has proven that petroleum is created from methane under pressure miles below where we are currently able to extract it commercially.  The Russians have taken the lead in deep drilling (45,000+) and hosted several good symposiums on it.

“Peak Oil” is a scam to control pricing and keep from building new refineries which meet EPA emissions standards which are costly and affect the bottom line.  Cheaper to poison the people and make obsene profits.

Meeting the EPA emissions standard is the most important issue. We heed new technology to “scrub”
exhaust from refineries, power houses, cars and other pollution causing sources.

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By NETTIE, February 15, 2007 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Very simply, THANK YOU, ANNIE!  Your article should appear in every newspaper and trumpeted in the news (yah, right).

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By Polly Ester, February 14, 2007 at 10:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thomas—-no one wants to listen to your nonsense, we’ve neglected the environment and have shown a complete unwillingness to change our wasteful fossil fuel policies—suburbanites are encouraged to buy trucks; houses are built that lack energy efficiency and the U.S. military is being used as pirates to harvest more fossil fuel in the Middle East. 

During the last three decades innovative methods have NOT been implemented to resolve excessive fossil fuel usage; however, oil companies have reigned supreme controlling all the politicians they lobbied and financed—-making legislators’ mere marionettes. 

Foreign policy and the invasion of Iraq is “fueled”  by the economic interests of hydrocarbon conglomerates:  “Despite the general lack of public debate, the geopolitical landscape of this young century is increasingly being driven by escalating competition for energy supplies before global oil production peaks, and the erosion of dollar hegemony with the emergence of new petrocurrency alignments. The hypothesis outlined in Petrodollar Warfare; Oil, Iraq and the Future of the Dollar, is that the tragic war in Iraq is in many ways the first oil-depletion and oil-currency war of the 21st century.”

So “ Doubting Thomas,”  we do not have the luxury of waiting another 30 years, unless of course, you delight in the prospect of interminable wars throughout Africa, Asia and South America where desperate governments fight to maintain control of fossil fuels.

The time to act is now; “energy independence” is our ONLY option.  Alas, it is our misfortune that those in the White House, Senate and Congress are unwilling to supply the leadership necessary to CHANGE the current course of energy INACTION; we are all being led down the path to disaster.

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By PatrickHenry, February 13, 2007 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Whether or not it is E-85, bio-diesel or some other coal derived petroleum product, The USA must become self sufficient in our transportion energy needs.

The nation as a whole would profit by those monies being exported would now be reinvested in the US infratructure.  No longer would corporate farmers be subsidized to plant “nothing”.  A John Appleseed movement to plant hemp or other fuel producing plants would theoretically reduce CO2 quantities.  The regreening of America would be a beautiful thing.

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By Christopher Robin, February 13, 2007 at 10:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Reply to Comment #53045 by LilyMaskew

“We can’t wait until someone, somewhere comes up with the “perfect” alternative.”

Thank you for pointing that out. Further, we would be well served to diversify energy sources. And not pick a winner or condemn a potential winner, waiting for utopia. All could be developing and improving, ultimately a superior source or sources will prevail.

That’s if the oil and gas lobby, don’t block competition and keep us heading down the dead end of a limited resource. What does their future offer? global warming, and wars for limited resources? Best to use what ever time we have to make real efforts to new energy supplies and systems, efficiencies.

Remember, it’s the current oil companies, which have lost us almost a decade of taking any real action on CO2. Funding junk science to keep the myth alive that nothing is happening, and it’s not worth bothering addressing the problem. They have proven themselves dishonest prevayor of the truth. Instead more interested in keeping their industry and profits alive, in spite of the evidence of the damaging being done.

So don’t be surprised that they will use their powerful political influence to destroy competing energy sources. Or keep them at bay, to protect their investments.

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By Donovan, February 12, 2007 at 10:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“*You* are the one arguing for the use of coal.”

Quote me at any time promoting the use of coal.  If you actually believe that that’s my stance on the issue, then you’ve paid even less attention to what I’ve written than I thought.

I only have one more thing to say to you: You mentioned 5th grade, that’s good, you are on the right track because you obviously need some reading comprehension classes.

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By Thomas, February 12, 2007 at 10:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


I know I said I wouldn’t post again but I feel that I should set the record straight. *You* are the one arguing for the use of coal. I was the one arguing against it. (and against your braindead suggestion that using the electricity from coal burning powerplants to charge an electric car is not functionally the same as running that car on coal).

You mentioned 5th grade, that’s good, you are on the right track because you obviously need some reading comprehension classes.


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By jimbo, February 12, 2007 at 12:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Suggest googling “cellulosic ethanol” and the hope this process brings.  As Annie and others suggest, the final solution will consist of many elements, including wind, fusion (eventually), fuel cells, and many others.  But cellulosic ethanol may offer the best short-term solutions, with news of corn ethanol producers already beginning to convert their plants.  Finally, google Lanny Schmidt at the University of Minnesota, who has new technology to convert ethanol directly to hydrogen for local use (cars, homes).  I believe the changes by 2017 will be amazing.  In fact, the oil-producing countries better look to themselves, because with decreasing demand for oil, they don’t have much else.  Unfriendly actions on their parts will only further motivate us.

The important thing is this country is motivated to change, and there is profit in it.  Now if we only had leaders who are not owned by oil and agriculture.  Vote for a president who has our interests at heart in ‘08.

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By LilyMaskew, February 11, 2007 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this article; it certainly sparked some interesting debate here.  I think that, at present, no single alternative fuel would fulfill all of our energy needs.  However, as one blogger mentioned above, using a combination of methods to reduce our dependence on oil, as soon as possible, could be feasible.  (i.e., in the South, solar energy - wind power in the Northern U.S., etc.) It appears to me that growing sugar cane might be more efficient that corn ethanol.  The use of crop rotation, would alleviate depleting the soil of vital nutrients, as well as letting some fields lie fallow for a season or two.  The point is to begin using new methods right away.  All these small efforts could add up to fuel savings.  We can’t wait until someone, somewhere comes up with the “perfect” alternative.

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By Donovan, February 11, 2007 at 6:55 am Link to this comment
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Thomas writes likes he’s a 5th grader on those commercials talking about how coal is the way to go.  We’re smart enough, Thomas, to see through your bullshit.  So go somewhere else like the Teen Chat in AOL if you’re going to try to convince people of your stupid opinions.

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By TakeSake, February 11, 2007 at 12:09 am Link to this comment
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Ethanol from corn is tricky because, and the numbers will be argued, the energy gain is at best about 30% with a modern plant. This makes using corn ethanol as an oil replacement a marginal improvement that will not give a clear gain over fossil fuels.

However, note that on the east coast, many homes are heated with heating oil, which is basically the same as diesel fuel. The only difference is that it has a dye in it and is taxed differently. The mistake is that a high quality fuel is used for heating.

If that diesel were instead used to displace gasoline, with the inherent higher efficiency the same 30% energy gain from corn ethanol would be made anyway. But then how are the houses heated, if not with heating oil?

The answer, is that since the corn would not be used for ethanol, that the houses would be heated by burning corn. In that case the energy gain is about 700% or something like that, because all the losses through the fermentation and distillation processes disappear. This also opens the way for other biomass fuels.

It is this redistribution of the fuels to better uses that will need to be embraced to realize the true potential of such alternative fuels.

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By Thomas, February 10, 2007 at 7:39 pm Link to this comment
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Moe Hare,

You said: “It sounds like you might have led the planning committee for the Iraq Invasion.”

LOL, are you trying to make my point for me?!? The war in Iraq is a perfect example of how terrible things can turn out when we push to action without fully formed plans. Putting aside the fact that the war in Iraq was a poorly thought out idea from the start, the reason we are in the mess we are in there now is exactly *because* we *didn’t* have a plan! No plan for securing the peace, no plan to stop the initial chaos and looting, no plan to address civil strife or assuage sectarian tensions, no plans period… and now you want to march ahead with the same mindless call to action that president Bush used to get us into such a mess? Don’t you remember his hasty rush to war? Are you so foolish that you can’t see the parallels? Exactly how is it that you think that I sound like I was on the planning committee for Iraq when I am calling for *more* planning and analysis of what are currently unworkable and unwise ideas and you think that you don’t sound like you were on that committee even though you are the one calling to push ahead with incomplete plans regardless of any possible unforseen consequences or complications?... and Donovan calls me an idiot? Sheeesh!

I can see that I’m falling on deaf ears here so I’ll not post again. Good luck with your efforts lemmings. : )


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By Moe Hare, February 10, 2007 at 7:37 am Link to this comment
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“When a project isn’t fully planned and analyzed, especially an important project, planning and analysis *is* action.”

It sounds like you might have led the planning committee for the Iraq Invasion.

I don’t think we have the luxury of time, to sit around indefinitely waiting for just the RIGHT ANSWER. Technology now exists to start making changes in how we create and utilize energy, and it may be to our benefit to establish multiple energy alternatives.

We are now at the “mercy” of the oil companies which has determined our Middle East policy—a total failure.

Investors no longer want to invest in the U.S.—fortunes are being invested internationally. It would be an excellent time for the U.S. to initiate new energy industries and technologies, thus creating positions for U.S. scientist and engineers.

And don’t believe “traitor” politicians, when they tell the public that there are not enough Americans to fill these positions. The unemployment statistics do not reflect the true facts about middle class “unemployment.”

New energy development and technology could be a great rallying point to “jump start” the middle class economy, bringing investors back to the U.S., creating “good paying” jobs for those displaced by globalization and renewing hope for our country—it is a win, win scenario; one that should be implemented NOW.

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By Donovan, February 10, 2007 at 6:53 am Link to this comment
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I’ve lost my patience with Thomas.  I’m done talking with such a idiot.

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By Thomas, February 8, 2007 at 8:55 am Link to this comment
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Moe Hare,

Your comments really make me roll my eyes. Are you saying that the only way for us to not look like fools is to mindlessly push incomplete and possibly counterproductive plans into premature implementation like a bunch of lemmings herding themselves off of a cliff as a solution to a looming threat on the horizon? Even assuming that the lemming threat was completely real do you think their solution was any better for them? The idea that because a problem is important we should skip planning and analysis and move straight to hopeful cross-your-fingers implementation of a poorly thought out “solution” is not only irresponsible, it’s just plain stupid. When a project isn’t fully planned and analyzed, especially an important project, planning and analysis *is* action.


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By Moe Hare, February 7, 2007 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
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“The real point is that all advanced technologies create exotic supply problems.”


So let’s sit back like fools, and do NOTHING about the environment!

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By Thomas, February 7, 2007 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment
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What??? You say everything is trivial when we are talking about the habitability of the planet? So then I guess the laws of physics don’t apply to us… I guess it’s possible to take an unlimited supply of energy from the wind without affecting climate patterns and possibly changing the climate system as radically as global warming would… I guess it’s possible to blanket the earth with solar panels without affecting the climate which is no longer recieving the solar energy that we are removing or without radically altering the reflective index of the ground so that more energy is either absorbed or reflected into space thus skewing the planetary balances that support us… I guess it’s possible to spend 15 or 20 years putting in place a solution to a problem that might be moot in 10 years because our industrial system collapsed under the weight of scarce resources and sky-high energy costs. Every single one of these issues may not be a problem, it may all be possible. But you don’t know whether they are or not any more than I do so portraying them as reasonable well thought out solutions that just need our unrestrained effort to bring to fruition is completely irresponsible. These are *not* trivial issues.

In regard to electricity, I thought you already admitted that most of the electricity in America is generated from coal fired power plants. If your car is running on electricity that was generated by burning coal then your car is responsible for all the coal that was burned to generate that electricity. Currently, and for the foreseeable future, electric cars require just as much petroleum to run as conventional cars… Actually *more* petroleum because of the energy that is wasted in converting the coal to electricity and in pushing it through the distribution lines to your house or charging point, and then converting the energy yet again into stored chemical energy in the battery. Keep in mind that each time energy is converted from one form or another some of it is lost due to inefficiency. What does it matter if the point at which the coal is burned is actually in the car itself or at an electric plant?... It doesn’t. As things stand now in order to run an electric car you must burn coal!

As for batteries… you say that there are other types of batteries than lithium ion and some have advantages that lithium ion batteries don’t. Maybe that’s true but lithium ion batteries also have major advantages that lead/acid and NiMH batteries don’t and lithium ion batteries are really the best battery technology available today. Why else would most modern electric and hybrid car designs use them? In fact the very Tesla motors car that you originally cited and gave specs for to buttress your claim that electric cars were feasible uses lithium ion batteries! The real point is that all advanced technologies create exotic supply problems.


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By Dave Boyer, February 7, 2007 at 11:33 am Link to this comment
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It is all about personal gain.  The oil Barrons
now have all the rights to corn alchohol we thought we would get to use for fuel.  They have stopped most of the production of gasahol to push the price of gasahol above the cost of a gallon of gasoline.  Until you remove the powers that be it will be extremely difficult to ever accomplish anything. 
Maybe we should all go back to horse and buggy
and scoop up the roadapples in the street for a cleaner and safer environment.

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By Donovan, February 7, 2007 at 8:39 am Link to this comment
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“...I don’t think that the difficulties can be trivialized…”  Yes they can.  Everything is trivial when we’re talking about the habitability of the planet.  So if it’s difficult or expensive, so be it.  We don’t have a choice; we either do what’s right or we say fuck it.  It’s pointless to be anywhere in between.

Keep the goal in mind: don’t become Venus.  If it takes 25, 50, or 100 years to bring our existence to equilibrium with the planet, then so be it.  Don’t become Venus.

Not all batteries are made with lithium.  So you’re concern for the lithium supply is dubious.  They’re not the best batteries around, either.  They have drawbacks that nickel and lead batteries don’t.

Electric are in no way as polluting as combustion driven cars.  I’m dumbfounded as to why you would make an unjustifiable statement like that.  Assume, for argument’s sake that the energy needed to manufacture all vehicles (electric or otherwise) came from coal burning plants.  Now get rid of all combustion driven cars and swap them with electric.  You’re saying that the CO2 emissions wouldn’t be significantly reduced?  Without electric cars there’s two sources of CO2 production, the plants supply the energy to make the cars and the cars themselves.  You can elminate one source by taking that “dirty” energy to make electric cars.  Thereby removing one source of CO2 prodution.

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By Annie Nelson, February 7, 2007 at 7:16 am Link to this comment
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Great comments here…wow!  A couple of things we know for sure are that inaction is not a viable option, and that there is not one way to move forward (nor does their need to be only one way).  As I said in the interview, we are looking at many ways to promote safer, saner energy with a future (for us) in mind.  This will require different energy sources for transportation, and passive needs. It will also PROVIDE American jobs, and build America’s economy, while making us safer.

Are all these options guaranteed to be the best…no, they are not. many of the comments made by Rayna Kay, and Alan were right on, by reminding us that moving forward, and replacing our dependence on another country’s resources for OUR survival is dangerous at best.  Alan’s point about the real cost of petroleum based carbon fuel, and the expense of transporting it, left out only one thing; given the fact that we have to go to other countries to seek out or fuel, we must all ask ourselves how much we would pay for a gallon of gas if the real costs were added into the price?  For instance, ask yourself just this one question…HOW MUCH IS YOUR CHILD’S LIFE WORTH?

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By Thomas, February 6, 2007 at 10:12 pm Link to this comment
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You say that plants take in CO2 (as they grow) and release CO2 (when burned), and that’s very true, but where is the C02 in the meantime? (between when it is released and when it is reabsorbed)... It’s circulating through the atmosphere causing a greenhouse effect. The fact that bio-fuels might slightly mitigate climate change because we wouldn’t be adding new carbon from underground will be small consolation if global warming continues anyway because of the stable albeit dramatically elevated levels of C02 that bio-fuels would require us to cycle through the atmosphere on a continual basis.


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By Thomas, February 6, 2007 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment
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I never stated that because it was difficult we shouldn’t do it, but I don’t think that the difficulties can be trivialized either, especially as they relate to time requirements. Let’s optimistically say that it would only take 15 years to switch over our primary energy sources for electricity generation from coal to solar, wind, and geothermal. Can we afford to wait that long? And what if it takes 20 years, or 25? In the meantime electric cars are just as polluting as conventional cars and they will remain so until we are well into the process of our electricity generation conversion. In that context they might be a valuable possibility in the indeterminate future but they currently do absolutely nothing to reduce pollution or greenhouse gases, that was my point.

Also, in regard to the long term possibilities of electric vehicles, you never answered my question:

Is there enough lithium in the world that is economically feasible to extract and commodify to create lithium ion batteries for everyone in America? or would we just be trading a peak oil problem for a peak lithium problem?... and a dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on foreign lithium?


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By Rayna Kay, February 6, 2007 at 9:19 pm Link to this comment
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The hotter our planet gets the more we lack power and strength so we need renewed energy and
we’ve been given bio-fuel as renewed energy and
it’s about how thankful we can be that we have an option that will save our lives.
  In life, when you travel a long distance you get tired but you don’t give up, you get renewed energy so you don’t collapse.
  Americans are in no way lazy, they have worked this land together since the day they arrived on the Mayflower and most improtantly they never gave up.  We are all living proof of that.
  This isn’t about anyone’s own self gain.
  If we want to make a difference, we have to come together.  Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf where there is hatred.  We’ll have to work to make the necessary changes that will save us.  It isn’t about how hard the farm work will be, it is about the blessings we will reap and it’s about how thankful we can be.

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By Alan, February 6, 2007 at 2:49 pm Link to this comment
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Some of you folks are hung up on the fact that ethanol and bio-diesel require energy to refine and bring to market.  It takes energy to transport crude oil from the Middle East, refine, and transport it to local markets too.  Nobody said they are magic bullets. 

If matter can’t be created or destroyed someone explain to me how you can get more CO2 out of plant based fuels than was originally trapped by it.  Plants take in CO2 and release O2.  Where did the carbon go?  The plant trapped it.  When the plant is broken down (burned as fuel) the carbon is released and reacts with O2.   

The fact that we would be transferring less of our wealth to a region in chaos where some have openly sworn to destroy us, is reason enough for me support bio-fuels.  We have got to learn to walk before we can run.

We need people to lead this country not control it!

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By Donovan, February 6, 2007 at 5:30 am Link to this comment
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“...even if we started today and put the full might of our national will behind such an initiative…”

So because it’s too difficult, then we shouldn’t do it?  Because our generation might not see the benefit we shouldn’t do it?  The lack of consideration for future generations is how this global warming problem got disposed to our shoulders.

I understand that most of the electrical grid is generated by coal burning plants… so switch over to solar, or wind, or X… combine all of them.  We (Americans) obviously don’t have a problem with wasteful spending of hundreds of billions of dollars (Iraq War).  So why not spend money, far less money, on something worthwhile?  Some scientists say that we have 15 years max until we get to the point of no return for global warming.  Their criteria for that estimation is along the lines of there being so many greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that climate temp’s will be irreversibly hotter.  My desire is for us not to turn into Venus.

So if you and I die before the global warming is curbed, then so be it… as long my off-spring will be around to enjoy it.

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By Annie Nelson, February 5, 2007 at 10:17 pm Link to this comment
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I believe some people just need to keep believing what they want to believe no matter what reality says, so in that vein I must wish you well, and agree to disagree with your facts, and your comments.

One I will not let go is the statement that you made insinuating that I am promoting marijuana because I mentioned hemp.
Fact:  Hemp is not a psychoactive drug. It is only the female plant which produces THC, not the male “hemp.”  I cannot help that you do not understand the difference.  Nor can I control what you wish/choose to believe. My husband’s generation grew hemp as scouts, and in school for rope and sails for ships during the war.  It was only once the powerful DuPont Corp. received their nylon patent that hemp was maligned.  Before that it was a spectacular rotation crop, as well as a source of wood fiber, paper (the Declaration of Independence is wriiten on hemp), clothing fiber, food protien, AND oil (the Diesel engine was designed to run on peanut and hemp oil, not petroleum which is actually hard on the engine and reduces effeciency).

I must say I found your comment on this as offensive as it was ignorant.  Not that it is anyone’s business, but I do not smoke marijuana.  I understand that there are still many out there who cannot think “outside the box.”  It does not need to remain so.

Having said that, I appreciate the debate, and information others have brought forth in this comment section.  I would like to add that I absolutely agree that their is no one magic bullet to replace the outrageous energy we consume now.  It will be a combination of efforts, of which the technology is growing.  I am proud to be part of, along with all of you, a paradigm shift in the way we have been consuming energy.  At present, we are 4% of the global population, yet we consume 25% of the planet’s energy.  That alone should be reason for Americans to find new paths to walk. 

I am, at present, attending the 07 Sustainable Biodiesel Conference in San Antonio, Tx., as well as the National Biodiesel Conference.  I would like to share with you that there are many who see the same vision, and are prepared to do what it takes to educate others to the possibilities our future holds.  American’s are brilliant, but lazy, but when pushed can be the greatest innovators.  Sometimes we just have to wade through the muck to get there.  I assure you…it’s worth it.

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By squidink, February 5, 2007 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment
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I agree with Donovan’s statement: “I believe a reason that any single alternative energy source—solar, wind, etc.—has not become prevalent in society is because we have expected that just one source is to supply our demands.  We need to develop and incorporate all methods of producing energy.  That is, we need to create the necessary infrastructure for alternative energy generation all at once and use them in tandem.”

Thomas—The urine / guano mention was meant as an example of the variety of nutrients available. I’m certainly not proposing that urine and guano are specifically THE answers. Sorry if it came off that way. The gamut of nutrient options is the thing.

I don’t think any option will present itself that has absolutely no depletive effects what-so-ever. Except, maybe, lightning. But then, if we harnessed all lightning, we’d be depriving the world of naturally occurring forest fires or something of that sort. Do you have any suggestions?

I wonder if crude oil itself serves some purpose within the earth’s biology that we are thwarting by its removal… And solar panels shade otherwise sunny areas… And windmills stand in the way of naturally flowing currents…

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By Polly Ester, February 5, 2007 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment
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“I believe a reason that any single alternative energy source—solar, wind, etc.—has not become prevalent in society is because we have expected that just one source is to supply our demands.  We need to develop and incorporate all methods of producing energy.  That is, we need to create the necessary infrastructure for alternative energy generation all at once and use them in tandem.”

Your assessment is correct diversity in energy sources is the best way to go—-electrical cars could have been the dominate vehicle on the road today, but as you pointed out corrupt business practices consistently conflict with environmental concerns.

Gore’s film “The Inconvenient Truth,” points out the futility of “profit” if we no longer have a planet.

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By Thomas, February 5, 2007 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment
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You refer to electric cars without any mention of the fact that the vast majority of electricity in America is generated in coal fired power plants and that coal releases much more pollution and just as much greenhouse gas as oil. I recently saw a video on google where a lady was doing a newscast and interviewing a proponent of electric vehicles who in one breath was calling them “zero emission”, and in the very next breath was stating that you plugged them in at night to charge them. Neither of them had any sense whatsoever of the irony of those two statements. Given the current state of electricity generation in America, electric vehicles are fundamentally just coal powered vehicles and in that context they are certainly not zero emission.

You will no doubt state that we should generate the electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal but even if we started today and put the full might of our national will behind such an initiative, creating the infrastructure necessary to support such an additional load on the electric grid would take decades to put in place. We’re not just talking about the massive capital investment in time, materials, and manufacturing capacity for thousands upon thousands upon even more thousands of windmills and/or solar panels, not to mention a nationwide fleet replacement, we’re talking about the electric grid, transmission lines, and distribution systems. You have to get the power from the panels to the consumer.

Then there is the issue of batteries themselves… Is there enough lithium in the world that is economically feasible to extract and commodify to create lithium ion batteries for everyone in America? or would we just be trading a peak oil problem for a peak lithium problem?... and a dependence on foriegn oil for a dependence on foreign lithium?

Americans may drive inefficient gas guzzling vehicles but it’s not as simple as that. Our society is too suburbanized. A lot of our transportation fuels are used for shipping and delivery of food, for long commutes to work, for similar commutes to the grocery store and other areas of necessity. You can’t really walk anywhere anymore and even if much of our travel is wasteful and extravagant much of it is also necessary to keep the economy going. I know people who drive 30 miles to work every day and much of our food wends it’s way through thousands of miles of shipping and delivery related transit. I don’t disagree that we can and should conserve fuel but there is a lower limit on how much fuel we can afford to be without and still have a functioning industrial economy… an economy that supports an industrial system that will be necessary to put in place the very energy generation alternatives that you are advocating.

I’m not against electric cars. I am not fundamentally against any alternative energy proposals, but I am against the portrayal of these technologies as robust and fully thought out solutions that are only being held back by the government or competing business interests and conspiracies. There are very real and significant issues and hurdles to be addressed, and they must be addressed *before* we commit ourselves to a solution. We can’t afford to do this twice because we went down the wrong path with a poorly thought out strategy. It’s a catch-22, we are running out of the energy source upon which our industrial system depends but manufacturing and deploying alternative energy solutions requires a functioning industrial system, and in the absence of petroleum based energy that very industrial system relies upon those alternatives. If we wait too long we’re screwed, but if we act rashly we will waste precious time and material and still be at square one. When it comes right down to the bottom line it’s not that we can’t afford to do this twice, it’s that we are in such a precarious position that we, as an industrial society, won’t be around to attempt it twice!


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By Donovan Hixson, February 5, 2007 at 7:02 am Link to this comment
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Wild Goose wrote:

“So how do we sort out fact from myth and propaganda? There’s so much info out there, and a lot of it just boils down to advertising for the businesses involved, strategies by people competing for funding dollars.”

I think the answer to this is going back the basics.  I would rather call them “essentials,” though.  It’s very easy to spot a phony solution to the emission of greenhouse gases when you know a little high school chemistry and physics.  I’m not a genius; I’ve just been able to retain more from high school and college science classes than most of the public.

I contend that a root cause to why we are languishing in our reserves of crude oil is that we are discounting the necessity to halt global warming by saying that alternative sources of energy cannot measure up to the needs met by gasoline powered cars.  Well, I say we need to change our needs.  If an electric car can only run for 150 miles or less before the need to be recharged, then so be it.  We don’t have the fortune of time to develop the perfect substitute to gasoline—although electric cars such as General Motors’ EV-1 can meet the needs of ninety percent of Americans.

I believe a reason that any single alternative energy source—solar, wind, etc.—has not become prevalent in society is because we have expected that just one source is to supply our demands.  We need to develop and incorporate all methods of producing energy.  That is, we need to create the necessary infrastructure for alternative energy generation all at once and use them in tandem.

It is not an unalienable right to own and drive a Hummer, Ford Super Duty truck, or sports car.  These vices will have to cease.  Tesla Motors has built an electric car with a polyphase AC motor that has 248 hp and 200 ft-lbs of torque that pulls 1 g during acceleration.  The fact is fossil fuels are not required to sustain the forms of recreation and convenience derived from automobiles to which we have grown accustomed.  Collectively, we need to immediately reject any gasoline powered vehicle that combusts at a rate less than 40 miles per gallon—accepting a gas mileage of any less is irresponsible and unjustifiable.

General Motors’ EV-1 proved the realism of electric cars but was surreptitiously stolen from the drivers of California because of the high demand for the electric car, a demand GM figured out after the fact was bad for business.  The batteries used in the EV-1 were purposefully of less performance than was available at the time, and the cars were still strenuously desired by the public.  This is not the first time that electric cars have been deliberately and corruptly removed from the public by General Motors and other proponents of internal combustion, as occurred in the early 20th century.

America should boycott General Motors products.

It is probably not very well known that continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) were first thought of by Leonardo Di Vinci over five hundred years ago (1490), and that the first patent was issued for a CVT design in the late nineteenth century (1886).  The CVT is one design feature that increases fuel efficiency, and is in use today.  Edwin Black chronicles in absolute detail many environmentally sound systems of transportation that once were either prevalent in America or were planned to be—at the end of the nineteenth century all automobiles were anticipated to be electric with a massive infrastructure established to support them, but financial corruption and greed led car makers down the path of internal combustion.

Another necessary substitute for our personal vehicles is mass transit.  After we divest ourselves of our gas-guzzlers, then the transition to utilizing mass transit will be easier to digest.  There is no argument that can legitimately disprove the benefits of society taking an electric train or bus to work, or altering some industries to allow for telecommuting.

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By Thomas, February 5, 2007 at 2:47 am Link to this comment
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You are right that urine is indeed a great fertilizer for plants, but considering the fact that we cannot pass nutrients in our urine that we did not originally consume as food, and that in the absence of the use of chemical fertilizers those nutrients would have to be returned to the soil just to sustain the continued production of more food, where would a large source of available urine come from to fertilize additional crops for fuel? Keep in mind that even if we collected all the urine we produce we still wouldn’t be replacing all the nutrients to the soil that were taken out of it because our bodies would have retained much of those nutrients instead of passing them… after all, that’s the whole point of eating in the first place… to get and retain nutriment.

As for your proposal to use guano or other animal waste products as sources of fertilizer… It’s important to remember that all animals are part of interdependent ecosystems in which they live. The bats that produced the guano ate insects or fruit, maybe the insects were eating plants, the bat’s guano must be returned to the ecosystem to nourish the plants, which nourish the insects, which nourish the bat. This is true for all animals even domestic ones. In the absence of chemical fertilizers the waste products of the animal are already spoken for because they are needed to replenish the soil that is growing the crops that provide food for that animal. You cannot divert nutrients from one cycle in order to create and support a different “cycle” or you will threaten both cycles because once the land that is sustaining the animal is depleted the animal will not get enough to eat, it will die, and there will be no more waste products to use to support the second cycle which will then also fail.

Remember, we aren’t talking about diverting just a little animal waste here and there, we are talking about needing to find sources to produce enough fertilizer to nourish enough land to support enough crops to sustainably produce 50 million barrels (that’s barrels not gallons) of fuel per *day*!


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By squidink, February 4, 2007 at 7:13 pm Link to this comment
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Thomas—with so many natural sources of nutrients available, from guano to our own urine, what is the problem with the depletion of nutrients from soil if they can be replenished organically and sustainably?

Annie—thank you for all of your efforts.

I recall an interview with Willie from early last year in which he was asked how he felt about legalization. He said that prohibition of cannabis didn’t seem to matter so long as people could get it from friends. After that last bust (the tour bus bust), I’m wondering if he’s changed his mind. I hope that he has.

Of course, I should note, that when we talk about hemp as a food, clothing and energy source, we’re talking about the male plants, which are not psychoactive. Thomas, the female plants actually DO produce magic, I hear.  wink

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By Christopher Robin, February 4, 2007 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
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Dear Mrs.Nelson, As yet another election approaches,never underestimate the power of plants or music. Both can be taken for granted at times.

But I think I’m hearing a country song, one that goes to the tune of “Brownie your doin’ a great job”  (at least the chorus?).... Or maybe it’s a folk song with just a guitar? (you could work out those details.)

Willie, knows more about these creative things than I do. But both of you inspire too.

Best Wishes

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By Thomas, February 3, 2007 at 2:55 am Link to this comment
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As a clarification of what I said in my last post… The statement that I made that there is not a plant in the world that replenishes the soil is not entirely accurate if you take into account legumes and other plants which have symbiotic relationships with nitrogen fixing microorganisms in their roots. Such plants (or rather the microorganisms) can “fix” nitrogen from the atmosphere and if those plants are then composted into the soil there is a net gain of nitrogen. The question still remains whether they can do so efficiently enough and rapidly enough to sustain the fertility of the land at a level that would support the continued removal of large quantities of bio-mass for conversion to bio-fuels without the use of supplemental fertilizer. This is especially true for a system of the scale necessary for meeting the energy needs of the entire country or even a significant portion of it. Unfortunately even if you think the answer is yes, nitrogen is still not the only nutrient plants need in order to grow, and hemp is not a legume and does not fix nitrogen.

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By Thomas, February 3, 2007 at 12:37 am Link to this comment
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Ah yes, hemp… That really is the hidden subtext of this discussion isn’t it? Anyone who has followed Willie’s career or seen the cover of his Countryman album knows that when he talks about bio-diesel his ideal source for making it is not corn. I’ve heard all of the claims for hemp… that you can make nearly anything out of it from plastics to textiles to paper, that it is one of the only vegetable products that contains dietarily complete protein, that you can make fuel from it, and… you name it. It is also alleged that it needs far less fertilizer, less irrigation, and less pesticides than most other crops. But whatever it is, whatever it can do, and however much better it is, it’s still not magic.

Unfortunately magic is exactly what it would have to be to do what you claim. You state that hemp is a weed and doesn’t need fertilizer, in fact you state that it replenishes the soil. That claim is tantamount to stating that it is indeed magic. The truth is that there is not a plant in the world that replenishes the soil. All plants *take* nutrients from the soil in order to grow, claiming that they don’t is like saying that a person could grow if they didn’t eat. Plants can return more carbon to the soil because they get it from the atmosphere but all plants also need nitrogen, phosphorus, and other trace minerals which they get from the soil itself, and they can’t return more than they take. Sadly, the excess carbon that a plant can return to the soil if it is composted does not increase the fertility of that soil because future plants won’t take the returned carbon from the soil, like all other plants they will take it directly from the air… Six molecules of water plus six molecules of carbon dioxide produce one molecule of sugar plus six molecules of oxygen. (6H2O + 6CO2 -> C6H12O6 + 6O2).

Once again the issue is scale, sure you can grow a small patch of clandestine cannabis on already fertile land for a season or two with very little or no fertilizer, pesticide, or irrigation, but can you do it year after year?, in other words can you do it sustainably?... Keep in mind that each time you harvested your hemp crop for bio-diesel and thus removed bio-mass from your field you would also be removing the nitrogen and phosphorus inside that bio-mass which would not be returned to the soil and your fields would thereby be diminished with each crop, not replenished. It is simply not possible to take nutrients from the soil to grow a plant, remove the plant, and not have diminished the fertility of that soil in the process. That is not only physically impossible it is logically absurd.

Just for the record, I am not at all in favor of continuing to use petroleum, I happen to think the future of industrial society itself, not to mention the lives of millions upon millions of people who currently rely on petroleum energy for food production and distribution is at stake. We need to find alternatives as quickly as possible, but they need to be true alternatives, ones that have a sound technical, scientific, and reality based foundation. Not pie-in-the-sky ideas that are thought out and implemented on a small scale involving free leftover cooking oils and unsustainable agricultural models and then carelessly extrapolated to national and international scale, or worse yet just assumed to be scaleable without regard to issues of the true magnitude of supply, demand, and large-scale systemic feasibility. We have a world-wide energy infrastructure to rearchitect and bio-diesel in it’s current manifestations is nothing more than a poorly thought out distraction.

Also for the record, just because I don’t think that cannabis is a magic agricultural crop that can grow forever with no supplemental fertilizer, that doesn’t mean that I am anti-cannabis.


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By Honkytown, February 2, 2007 at 9:09 pm Link to this comment
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Response to Annie Nelson [Comment #51338]:

Thanks for your reply, Annie. It’s Honkytown, not Honkytonk (I live in Hong Kong). smile


I don’t think that’s a fair interpretation. Some have pointed out that the use of petroleum as a fuel is more energy-efficient than using it to grow and process biofuels. Unfortunately, at present there is little alternative where large-scale production is involved. I think all of us here are anxious to find a long-term replacement for fossil fuels.

The sad fact is that, as governments and energy corporations come to realize that alternatives to the depleting reserves of fossil fuel are essential, they seek to control the necessary resources and production, just as Monsanto and Bechtel are now buying up water supplies around the globe. Can you really believe that they would relinquish control of such a strategically important and lucrative industry to little people like us?

Examples of this trend can now be be seen in my region, in the Philippines and Indonesia. Both countries are poor and have weak government, and their agribusiness is already dominated by large foreign corporations such as Del Monte, Syngenta AG and Nestlé, producing food for export to richer nations while the rural native populations barely survive at subsistence levels:

“At P50,000 per hectare production cost for rice and corn, China’s investments in the [Philippines] may immediately reach to P10 billion for the development of 200,000 hectares of rice and corn areas alone. However, the target is really for China to invest in one million hectares of land for hybrid corn, hybrid rice, and hybrid sorghum which will be used by China for ethanol production…

“China has been embarking on investments in other Asian countries where it can source biodiesel and ethanol.”



“China has agreed to invest in a $5.5 billion biofuels project on the islands of New Guinea and Borneo. The plan promises to be controversial among environmentalists who say that it will destroy some of the world’s most biodiverse - and threatened - ecosystems on the planet.

“According to The Wall Street Journal, one million hectares (2.5 million acres) have been reserved for the eight-year plan, which would convert tropical forest for oil palm, sugar, and cassava plantations. China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC), Indonesia’s Sinar Mas Group, and Hong Kong Energy (Holdings) Ltd. are funding the project.”


In your reply to Thomas [Comment #51342] you again make mention of “carbon fiber”. I remain puzzled. Are you referring to particulate emissions from inefficient hydrocarbon combustion?

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By Moe Hare, February 2, 2007 at 5:28 pm Link to this comment
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“What about Hemp?”
Yeah, maybe Bush can run his Crawford farm truck with cocaine and alcohol—it’s his kind of “high test.”

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By Annie Nelson, February 2, 2007 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment
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Thomas Wrote:
I’m sorry that you feel that my posts constituted an ad-hominem attack. My only target was meant to be ethanol and bio-diesel, not you personally. The reason that I am so hostile to “alernative fuels” is first and foremost because they are not alternatives at all. When you say “alternative fuel” you are implying that the fuel in question is an alternative to the primary fuel that we use today, namely petroleum.


You state that “we use our product to produce our product” but that is impossible to do on a sustainable basis.


You said that bio-fuels represent a paradigm shift to what originally worked. Unforunately that is not true. Agriculture has never been used for large scale production of transportation fuels. And the three field rotation strategies that were once used to create a sustainable agricultural system before the use of chemical fertilizer would only increase the need for farmland so drastically that we would end up having to convert large new swaths of America into a monoculture of artificial single-crop “non-ecosystems”.


Then there is the issue of global warming… Even if we could sustainably produce enough bio-fuels to meet America’s energy needs global climate change would still be a problem. Considering the fact that ethanol and bio-diesel both release carbon dioxide when burned just like petroleum does, and the fact that nothing less than the stability of the climatic system on which all life on this planet relies is at stake, can you really call ethanol and bio-diesel the “fuel that doesn’t kill us”?


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By Annie Nelson, February 2, 2007 at 4:50 pm Link to this comment
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I’m puzzled by some of your comments, Annie. You accuse Thomas and others of promoting the continuing use of fossil fuels. I don’t see anything in what has been written here to support such an allegation.


You accuse them of “ad hominem arguments”, and I have to wonder if you really understand the meaning of the term, as I see nothing here that attacks you or Willie personally. You are both clearly well motivated and passionate in your regrettably naive belief in the power of biodiesel to save the planet.

AD HOMINEM: logical fallacy in which the writer attacks the person who presents the issue rather than deal logically with the issue itself.
Mine are in defense of the accusation that I/we were ignorant of what we were speaking because we didn’t agree with his thoughts.

Your language is sprinkled with such indecipherable comments and phrases as “biodiesel is not to blame for the fact that you like to eat french fries”; “carbon fiber emissions” (?); “wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and other methods are best for building types of use”.


You say you “understand that this concept may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around” but it is you who have failed to adequately address several fundamental objections to the wholesale adoption of biofuels. Can you tell me, please, how many acres of corn, for example, are needed to produce one drum of biodiesel? And how much petroleum is required for the fertilization and working of that land and the processing of the raw biomass?


If you are to be a credible proponent of biofuels, you should be able to answer such basic questions. If not, then you need to do a lot more homework.


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By PatrickHenry, February 2, 2007 at 3:22 pm Link to this comment
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For the cost of month in Iraq, the U.S. govt. could:

Provide subsidy to Ford, GM, Dodge to offer small Bio-diesel/multifuel capable cars and trucks.  I once had a 80’s diesel Ford escort that got 40+mpg.

Government should require Exxon, Shell, BP and others to offer alternative fuels biofuels to force diversification of their “gas station” monopoly providing oil derived products.  This would be in the public interest and national well being.

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By David Fehrenbach, February 2, 2007 at 8:01 am Link to this comment
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What about HEMP

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By Bert, February 2, 2007 at 7:49 am Link to this comment
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I’ll take Willie Nelson, pot smoke and all, over the stench of Halliburton et. al. burning a hole in our federal budget any day of the week.

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By Honkytown, February 1, 2007 at 7:23 pm Link to this comment
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I’m puzzled by some of your comments, Annie. You accuse Thomas and others of promoting the continuing use of fossil fuels. I don’t see anything in what has been written here to support such an allegation.

You accuse them of “ad hominem arguments”, and I have to wonder if you really understand the meaning of the term, as I see nothing here that attacks you or Willie personally. You are both clearly well motivated and passionate in your regrettably naive belief in the power of biodiesel to save the planet.

Your language is sprinkled with such indecipherable comments and phrases as “biodiesel is not to blame for the fact that you like to eat french fries”; “carbon fiber emissions” (?); “wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and other methods are best for building types of use”.

You say you “understand that this concept may be difficult for some to wrap their heads around” but it is you who have failed to adequately address several fundamental objections to the wholesale adoption of biofuels. Can you tell me, please, how many acres of corn, for example, are needed to produce one drum of biodiesel? And how much petroleum is required for the fertilization and working of that land and the processing of the raw biomass?

If you are to be a credible proponent of biofuels, you should be able to answer such basic questions. If not, then you need to do a lot more homework.

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By PatrickHenry, February 1, 2007 at 6:32 pm Link to this comment
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The US government needs to accept and enable this bio-trend as a stategic domestic industry. 

Less dependence on imported oil would lessen the chance of war.

It would create domestic employment that could not be outsourced as many of out strategic industries now are.

This bio-trend could alleviate the problem of filling landfills by recycling biodegradable items into something useful.

The problem is that unless some forward thinking entity(s) with a significant amount of seed money invest in this infant stage of development it will be very slow in its fruition. (you bet the Oil companies will fight it (slow it down)through their banks, media and congress).

They can only slow it down it’s success is inevitable.

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By Thomas, February 1, 2007 at 1:23 am Link to this comment
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I’m sorry that you feel that my posts constituted an ad-hominem attack. My only target was meant to be ethanol and bio-diesel, not you personally. The reason that I am so hostile to “alernative fuels” is first and foremost because they are not alternatives at all. When you say “alternative fuel” you are implying that the fuel in question is an alternative to the primary fuel that we use today, namely petroleum. But if you consume as much petroleum energy in the process of creating an “alternative fuel” as the energy you ultimately produce in the form of that “alternative fuel” then that fuel isn’t really an alternative at all, it’s simply different. There is a significant distinction between a truly “alternative fuel” and simply a “different fuel.”... After all, the whole point is to get away from fossil fuels, isn’t it?

You state that “we use our product to produce our product” but that is impossible to do on a sustainable basis. Every time you take bio-mass from the field you are removing nutrients from the soil. Those nutrients have to be replaced or over time the yield will suffer, and as nutrients are further and further depleted yield will eventually cease altogether. Industrial agriculture addresses this problem by using supplemental fertilizer which is manufactured from petroleum. You may claim that you can compost the waste products from your crop (leaves, stalks, husks, etc.) instead of using chemical fertilizers, but doing so would not be as efficient because each time you removed bio-mass from the field to process into bio-diesel you would have effectively removed nutrients too and the composted material would only be some fraction of the crop as a whole so it would not replace all that was removed. The bottom line is that it is impossible to produce your product with your product without adding supplemental nutrients from the outside. Adding such material may indeed be possible on a local community based farm because you can just buy someone else’s composte, manure, etc., but if they used petroleum to fertilize their field and therefore to produce the surplus bio-mass to sell to you as compost then you aren’t really only using your product to produce your product, in that case you are effectively using petroleum as well, it may be invisible but it’s still there as an input. The real problem is how such a system would work on a national scale. If every farm removes nutrients from their fields and thus needs to obtain supplemental fertilizer then where is it going to come from?, remember that in such a situation every farm needs more, none have extra bio-mass to provide to anyone else… the only answer is petroleum. Petroleum based fertilizer is what fuels modern agriculture. And that’s why “alternative fuels” that rely on agriculture aren’t really “alternative fuels” at all. They are just different ways of using petroleum energy by converting it into another form.

You said that bio-fuels represent a paradigm shift to what originally worked. Unforunately that is not true. Agriculture has never been used for large scale production of transportation fuels. And the three field rotation strategies that were once used to create a sustainable agricultural system before the use of chemical fertilizer would only increase the need for farmland so drastically that we would end up having to convert large new swaths of America into a monoculture of artificial single-crop “non-ecosystems”.

Then there is the issue of global warming… Even if we could sustainably produce enough bio-fuels to meet America’s energy needs global climate change would still be a problem. Considering the fact that ethanol and bio-diesel both release carbon dioxide when burned just like petroleum does, and the fact that nothing less than the stability of the climatic system on which all life on this planet relies is at stake, can you really call ethanol and bio-diesel the “fuel that doesn’t kill us”?


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By Christopher Robin, January 31, 2007 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
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Some advantages of Diesel engines over gasoline. A 30% efficiency improvement. Meaning all factors equal same horsepower same model and weight

A Diesel vehicle will travel 30% farther on a gallon of diesel fuel versus a gallon of gas.

Reducing CO2 emitted to perform the same work.

And many of the disadvantages of diesel engines are markedly improved when Biodiesel is added to petroleum diesel, or used alone without any petroleum based fuel.

Biodiesel has better lubrication properties versus it petroleum cousin. Meaning the already Long-lasting durability of a diesel engine is extended yet further…when operated on Biodiesel.

Longer-lasting vehicles…that would reduce manufacturing materials use and waste and reduce transportation costs to all motorists…

Biodiesel burns far cleaner, without the soot emissions we all have seen from buses and trucks. No sulfur to remove from the fuel as they now require with petroleum-based diesel fuel.

Burns more completely. Less unburned unused fuel=(hydrocarbons) emitted into the atmosphere

Even blending with petroleum , markedly improves emissions… and reduces pollution.
Stretching existing oil supplies , or even replacing completely depending on the amount produceable.

Read more about diesel engines:

Interesting quotes contained at the bottom of the page.

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By Rayna Kay, January 31, 2007 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment
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Yes lets use This Fuel That Doesn’t Kill Us but
take into account all of those people who are already working there lives away, myself included, to pay their notes for their
automobiles that do not have diesel engines, and
then there are all those hard working class people who have older cars that do not run on bio diesel fuel.  And then there are all of those new and used car lot owners that have cars for sale without deisel engines.  And there are all those people who cannot aford to purchase anything but a used car. 
I wonder if all these people are willing to and weather they can afford to get back to the land and get into a car with a deisel engine and if so,
Annie please tell me if and how you really plan to get this fuel into these peoples lives and into their cars for a safer and more clean Planet?
Is there something the government can do to help assists in this to make changes for a positive
Rayna Kay

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By Craig Whipps, January 31, 2007 at 12:34 pm Link to this comment
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The best thing about bio-diesel is it can be produced by a community for it’s own benifit.

Of course, if you’re an oily-garch (sp) you probably don’t see it that way.

Thanks Willy for puttin’ the Freedom back in fries.

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By Stacey, January 31, 2007 at 7:53 am Link to this comment
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This shift to ethanol is insane.  Why would anyone want to make ethanol or produce it.  It takes more energy to produce to make the end product.  I think focus needs to be placed elsewhere.

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By Cris Simmons, January 31, 2007 at 12:39 am Link to this comment
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We need more articles like this to inform the public about what real fuel alternatives we have besides making the Bush Family richer. The future is now… we all need to spread the word. There are too many people in this country who have their heads in the sand. My next car is going to run on biodiesel. My 16 year old is saving his money for one too. Every bit helps.
Thanks to Annie for the insight.

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By wild goose, January 30, 2007 at 10:49 pm Link to this comment
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Lots of interesting and contradictory comments here. Donovan Hixson’s is probably the most interesting.
So how do we sort out fact from myth and propaganda? There’s so much info out there, and a lot of it just boils down to advertising for the businesses involved, strategies by people competing for funding dollars.

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By Annie Nelson, January 30, 2007 at 8:00 pm Link to this comment
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This response is in regard to the postings by Thomas, et al.  Your arguments for our continuation of the use of fossil fuels, and your obvious distaste for alternative, renewable fuels is curious.  Your facts are incorrect, and don’t at all have anything to do with the sustainable use of biodiesel which is what my interview was about.  You use ad hominem arguments, such as using waste products from plants takes away food from animals…what animals would those be?  Would you be speaking about the animals that we need to clear rainforests, etc. so they can feed, and who are a part of the puzzle as to why the environent is in the sad state it is in today…those animals?  And your assumption is that there is no balance here.  This is simply not true unless the only concept in your consciousness is corporate agriculture.

Also, biodiesel is not to blame for the fact that you like to eat french fries, as in your statement that petroleum energy is used to produce each calorie…uh, the logic escapes me here.  Sustainable energy production is just that, we use our product to produce our product (that is the model to strive for), including a balance between food, and fuel, dependency on American made energy and not energy ill gained from the middle east, as well as the reduction of carbon fiber emissions.  Biomass is basically used for transportation, while wind, solar, geothermal, wave, and other methods are best for building types of use.  And, exactly why is it a rule that something isn’t possible, as in when you state that it is simply impossible to believe that our transportation fuels can be replaced by “cooking oils,” simply because you can’t comprehend what is already happening?  Between biodiesel, ethanol, and mass transportation (trains & busses can and do run on biodiesel as well), this country could cease to be dependent on oil from the middle east.

As you “should” see alternative fuels are coming whether or not you understand them, or are comfortable with them.

By the way, biodiesel can be produced from many plants that not only have a great seed oil content, many also enrich the soil by returning nutrients to it. 

Also, when you have community based production facilities, the only shipping that is done is to the cities where no facilities are available.  AND, they are shipped using the fuel that is produced, not a wash with petroleum fuel as you suggest.

You state that there was no conversation about how much petroleum is used in farming, as if the statement means we should continue the practice.  One of the major points of sustainable farming, and renewable fuels is to get rid of exactly those practices (pesticides, etc) because they are killing us.  They are not a bonus thing we would lose, they are exactly what we SHOULD lose.

Then back to the ad hominem argument that “it can easily be seen that ethanol and biodiesel are just less effecient ways of using petroleum energy.”  What can I say…you are simply wrong.

I understand that this concept ay be difficult for some to wrap their heads around, and I really appreciate Thomas putting his thoughts down for discussion.  This is a paradeigm shift, but remember, it is a shift abck to what originally worked.

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By katieL, January 30, 2007 at 4:43 pm Link to this comment
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In fact, many of the problems that we’ve been told over the years that are near impossible to solve actually only need some attention and people who want to change.  Not only is te use of biodiesel on of those, but the end to world hunger as well.  Both are important and both are in reach if we simply familiarize ourselves with the Millennium Development Goals and make sure our legislators pay attention as well.  It costs $19 billion annually to eradicate world hunger by 2025, according to the Borgen Project. Now that’s doable.

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By Thomas, January 30, 2007 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment
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I would like to anticipate one further objection that you might make to this line of reasoning. You might say that ethanol and bio-diesel could be made from the parts of the plant that we don’t currently use, like the husks, stalks, leaves etc. And while this may be true doing so would be ignoring the fact that while those products may have no use to us as human consumers all of them can either be used as animal feed or as compost. Therefore completely taking such “waste products” from the field only intensifies the demands on the land and requires the use of more petroleum based fertilizer to replace the nutrients that were removed from the soil.

Robert mentioned that Willie and Annie Nelson run their car on recycled cooking oil from restaurants. That may be cool, but in our wasteful society just because something is thrown away doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of energy put into it’s production. How many calories of energy were consumed to produce each useable calorie of energy contained in that oil? Putting aside that issue and also the issue of how much petroleum might have been used to reprocess such dirty used cooking oil to get it back to the point where it was pure and clean enough to be used as fuel for a modern car, can you really honestly think that used cooking oil is a viable source for meeting America’s 50 million barrel per day energy requirements? How many barrels of used cooking oil do you think we could produce and make available to consumers on a daily basis? Admittedly the entire 50,000,000 barrels of petroleum that we use in America each day aren’t all directly used for transportation but it’s simply impossible to believe that whatever fraction of our daily petroleum consumption is used for transportation could ever, even remotely, be replaced by cooking oils. The whole idea is at best a cool solution for a few early adopters (before the restaurants realize their old used oil has real value and start charging for it’s resale to recyclers accordingly) and at worst a time-wasting diversion from the very real energy problems that we face.

As you can see the whole issue of “alternative fuels” is a much more complicated one than it appears to be at first glance. What the world must do over the course of the next few decades is transform from a stored energy model (petroleum reserves) to a real time energy model of some form or other. Maybe there is a viable real time energy model that will help us move to a sustainable future and maybe it will involve agriculture in some way, but I think that you would be doing a great disservice to your readers by portraying ethanol and bio-diesel as panaceas without discussing the real issues that underlie their production and the very real way that those issues compromise any claims that proponents of such products might make to their being petroleum alternatives, or to being sustainable solutions.

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By Thomas, January 30, 2007 at 2:35 pm Link to this comment
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You may be saying, “why is this guy focusing on corn?, bio-diesel can be peanut oil, or soybean oil, or… [insert agriculural product here].” The reason I’m focusing on corn is because corn is one of America’s top crops, but all other imaginable agricultural products introduce the same problems. No matter what biological commodity you choose to start with and whether those commodities are ultimately transformed into ethanol, or into a biological oil to be used as bio-diesel, the bottom line is there is no way to convert petroleum to biological products without losing energy in the process.

So now you may be saying “what’s he talking about?... ‘losing energy in the process’?, he’s got it all wrong, plants get energy from the sun!”, and while that may be true they don’t do so anywhere near efficiently enough to meet our energy needs without large-scale industrial farming and the reliance on petroleum for fertilizers and pesticides, not to mention modern farm machinery (unless the equipment is using bio-diesel or ethanol too)... We are so far past any form of sustainable farming in America that it has been alleged that the modern definition of agriculture could be said to be “the process of turning petroleum into food. (or now ethanol)”

Just as a hypothetical, forget the allegation that every calorie of ethanol represents 10 calories of petroleum input. Let’s just say that it’s 1 to 1, let’s say that to plant the corn with petroleum driven farm equipment, fertilize the corn with petroleum derived fertilizers, treat the corn with petroleum derived pesticides, harvest the corn with petroleum driven farm equipment, process the corn into ethanol or bio-diesel with petroleum based processing equipment, and finally to ship the finished product to the consumer only takes 1 calorie of petroleum energy for each calorie of ethanol or bio-diesel produced. That just means we have added an extra layer of complexity in the petroleum consumption chain. No net energy has been produced whatsoever. And what does that say for the long term sustainability of these so called “alternative fuels”? (...continued)

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By Thomas, January 30, 2007 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment
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I am writing this because I love truthdig but I have recently been disappointed by your coverage of bio-diesel and ethanol as alternative fuels. I listened to your recent podcast with Robert and Joshua Scheer, and James Harris which discussed some of the issues involved in finding and switching to alternative fuels, but unfortunately there was no discussion whatsoever about the fact that agriculture relies very heavily on fossil fuels for every aspect of it’s production. Fertilizers are manufactured directly from fossil fuels and fossil fuels are also used to run the equipment that does that processing, similarly pesticides are also both manufactured from and manufactured using fossil fuels. Petroleum is also used to run most farm machinery from the tractor to the irrigation pumps. Then fossil fuels are used yet again for processing and shipping. The bottom line is that it has been alleged that every calorie (unit of heat energy) contained in ethanol represents up to 10 calories of petroleum energy that was directly involved in it’s production.

This is a huge problem because in such a context it can easily be seen that ethanol and bio-diesel are really just less efficient ways of using petroleum energy. Moreover it is a problem that cannot be fixed because according to the laws of thermodynamics energy is lost through inefficency every time it is transformed from one form to another and consequently the transformation of petroleum to fertilizer, to corn, and finally to ethanol or bio-diesel represents completely unavoidable energy losses at every stage in the process.

Robert Scheer mentioned in his comments during the podcast that the agricultural industry is a lobby. He implied that they have the power to influence politics and energy policy decisions in their own interests. I agree, and I think that the whole ethanol/bio-diesel issue is just a way of reformulating energy policy into what amounts to nothing more than an elaborate agricultural subsidy. If you as a corn producer, or more accurately as the corn industry itself, could sell your corn as food at one rate but because of skyrocketing petroleum prices could transform it into ethanol and sell it as fuel at a much higher rate while at the same time getting lucrative alternative energy incentives to do so then it’s a no brainer what you would do, and you would have no interest whatsoever in honestly divulging the compromising fact that ethanol and/or bio-diesel really doesn’t save any petroleum whatsoever (let alone reduce carbon emissions because there is carbon in ethanol and bio-diesel too.) Moreover the petroleum industry would have no problem at all with your campaign to get people to switch to ethanol or bio-diesel because they know the truth, and the truth is that they make just as much money selling petroleum to the agricultural industry for conversion to agricultural products to be used as “alternative fuels” as they do by selling the petroleum directly to the consumer. In fact as mentioned previously, they may actually make more money that way because of increased demand due to the inefficiencies involved in multiple energy conversions from petroleum to the final product… (continued)

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By John Doraemi, January 30, 2007 at 1:19 pm Link to this comment
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Ethanol is a boondoggle for midwest agribusiness.  In fact, it’s a terrible idea that uses up our limited topsoil that should be used for food.

Some scientists have calculated that it takes more energy to produce this fuel than you get out of it, making it counterproductive and a waste.

Wind, solar, conservation, tide generation and a new type of more efficient hydrogen extracting electrolysis seem to be much better options.  This is where money for research should be diverted immediately and in large quantitites.

Soon we may see cars running on water, splitting their own hydrogen inside the vehicle (which can’t be controlled by a centralized monopoly), and we will have great breakthroughs in limitless energy. 

Other scientists have patented Tesla technology that creates excess energy from a mysterious, and not so well understood principle.  The military evidently is stepping in to squash those technologies.  Still, they offer some hope to solve the problem.

Crimes of the State

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By Honkytown, January 30, 2007 at 2:03 am Link to this comment
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Biodiesel and ethanol are nothing but red herrings. They are hydrocarbons and burning them still produces CO2. Moreover, their production in sufficient quantity to replace even a small percentage of the petroleum fuel currently being consumed would require the commitment of vast areas of arable land—probably in poorer countries, and likely under the aegis of oil companies. This in turn would severely reduce the acreage available for food production to feed an ever-growing global population. No; the way to go is to reduce our reliance on combustion-based energy sources and switch to pollution-free solar, geothermal, wind and wave, and fuel-cell technology.

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By Annie Nelson, January 30, 2007 at 12:24 am Link to this comment
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With regard to the “correction” by someone at the national biodiesel board, I would just have to say that yes, there were some tax incentives, and some token funding for research into renewable biomass fuels, but had they been
1. The legislation passed supports, to a much greater extent, the people who are at the production level of many nbb’s members, which is large conglomerate producers, and less for small community based producers, even though there is relief for some small producers as well.  I still ask you to look at facts and say to yourself that if in fact those incentives were to promote renewable fuels in any legitimate way, what happened?  The tax incentives are good, but in no way deter monopolies, or encourage small producers.

Many bills have been introduced, yet here we are still waiting.  The only media comments heard about biofuels are that conglomerates, and corporate ag ventures (Tyson, ADM, Cargill) are somehow “green?”

Standards need to be set with consideration for the determent of a monopoly on energy in this country, as well as the sustainability of the product produced.  It has become obvious to some of us in this industry that standards do indeed need to be set, but not by those who represent corporate farming alone, which begs the question…what is the “correction” about?  The comments by the nbb do not change the fact that little other than lip service has been given to renewables, as witnessed by the fact that petroleum, coal & nuclear funding is more than 3 to 1 to funding for alternatives.

Perhaps the nbb will be thrilled to know that in the 07 budget, many of these incentives have been cut all while the Bush Administration pats themselves on the back for a whitewash job done well.  The 07 budget has an absolute disgusting cut of $78M (or 13%) for federal energy effecincy programs.  In the 2007 Farm Bill there exists a proposal to cut another $23M designated for renewable energy & energy effeciency programs, which would sincerely hurt small farmers & ranchers, therefore hurting small businesses in their communities.

The list goes on for the 07 budget, so why the defense of these guys by the nbb is up to the nbb to figure out.  I just wouldn’t call what was said a “correction.”

Aloha & Peace,
Annie Nelson

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By Jon B, January 29, 2007 at 10:56 pm Link to this comment
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Dummbbyaa’s oily buddies made an immense fortune under the bushies energy policy. If you follow the energy market, then you know BP chairman, Exxon President, oil ministry of Khazastan which is the 10th largest oil producing nation,  and Saudi said that there are plenty oil and no buyers.

When the government and its campaign donors gang up on little guys, little guys have no chance, not a chance.

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By Polly Ester, January 29, 2007 at 10:27 pm Link to this comment
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“So it’s kind of serious, but instead of doing that, let each community—that’s our deal—to connect communities and make sure that they can produce their own fuels so they’re not dependent on one of these corporations that have already proven that they could care less about these people’s interests, and do their own. Make their own fuel. Make their own security, which gives everybody in this country security because not one person or organization is controlling the market.”

This is an excellent point—if there were “multiple energy options” no one company could monopolize energy production, and hold Americans hostage to corporate greed.

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By Christopher Robin, January 29, 2007 at 8:40 pm Link to this comment
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Quote from:

“Greenhouse gases and global warming
Using vegetable oils or animal fats as fuel for motor vehicles is in effect running them on solar energy. All biofuels, including ethanol, are derived from the conversion of sunlight to energy (carbohydrates) that takes place in the green leaves of plants.

Plants take up carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere; burning plant (or animal) products in an engine releases the CO2 uptake back into the atmosphere, to be taken up again by other plants. The CO2 is recycled, atmospheric CO2 levels remain constant. Thus biofuels do not increase global warming—unlike fossil fuels, which release large amounts of new (or rather very old) CO2 which has been locked away from the atmosphere for aeons.

In fact biodiesel can actually reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere: for example, growing soybeans takes nearly four times as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as the amount of CO2 released in the exhaust from burning soybean oil biodiesel.”

I won’t quibble over the current petroleum used in farming and processing and transport, in which to make a btu of Biofuel. “Oil” has refineries and tankers, and transport energy use, too in it’s delivery.
Not to mention toxic compounds from refining and production. (see birth defects health problems near refinery locations)or war costs…the most dear of all. Biofuels need far less processing to become a useable product…than crude oil

Brazil has managed to replace much of their domestic oil needs with a developed sugar cane based alcohol industry.

It’s certainly conceivable the farmer’s tractor and equipment could run on the very fuel produced. And fuel crops would not need the levels of pesticides and waste which are current desire for “unblemished” food production demands.

(think of all the apples now rejected and wasted by producers as flawed, undersized and usable for market as one example)

No one is inspecting if the ear of corn pressed, for it’s oil content and fermented for the alcohol, as unblemished? Apples ferment too, as do many organic things that contain sugars and starches…potatos (Vodka?)... Start buying current waste/rejected crops start fermenting them.

Bacteria aren’t fussy…and quite adaptable.

The current mash from the post fermenting process is used as a high quality food source for animals cattle ( meat & dairy ) and so little waste even at that point.

You can also take the “mash” residue and return it directly to the soil as compost enriching the soil

Or use the animal droppings from the feed ...Which has long been used as a fertilizer.

By the way you can also ferment the manure to capture the “methane gas” before using as an fertilizer yet another source of fuel, wasted to the atmosphere un-used. (a current additional greenhouse gas)

This is far better than taking carbon long trapped over millions of years, under the earth and releasing to the atmosphere in a matter of decades. Which is now our current problem.

Not to mention the appox. 2 billion dollars a week we are now spending *“cough”* “To bring democracy to Iraq” or even the lives and lost and ruined.

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By DennisD, January 29, 2007 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment
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Great article and comments. It’s time to get our inert Congress moving. We the people should be dictating what issues the candidates discuss and not them. We have to make these clowns take a stand, hold them to it and throw them out if they don’t to get anything done. 
I have heard nothing of substance from any of them of either party addressing this important issue. I guess angering big oil is like touching the third rail of their campaign contributions. American politicians - selling out their country one day at a time.

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By Donovan, January 29, 2007 at 7:28 pm Link to this comment
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More on solar dimming can be learned from the episode of the PBS show Nova titled “Dimming the Sun.”

“Who Killed the Electric Car” dovetails perfectly with Edwin Black’s book “Internal Combustion.”  Learn more about the book at:

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By mizipi, January 29, 2007 at 5:29 pm Link to this comment
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Bigge$t problem—we live in the U$A.  Bu$h and hi$ family are ari$tocrat$ who live by the Golden Rule: He who ha$ the gold, rule$.

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By John Doe, January 29, 2007 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment
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Every which way I look the “how” of the global warming theory seems to have holes. I remain objective on the topic until I see people making decisions and policy changes on this information and then I cringe!

While I really would like to be a good world citizen I ask that somebody help clarify this global warming via “green-house gasses” issue so that I am compelled to take a side or be willing to pay more taxes to force us into an alternate energy that truly makes sense for good natured reasons.

What I always fall back on when seeing these arguments with apparent holes in them being acted upon by policy makers is that almost all of the policy decisions out there tend to put forth by lobbyists. Lobbyists work for the people with the money.  So even what appears to be good natured should always be evaluated with skepticism because as good natured as these “Green” energies can be (for many reasons) there will be without a doubt a fight to retain control these energies and revenues created by the people with the money.

For those of you not familiar with the people with the money they are the giant profit makers in the energy market and those linked to them so always keep that in mind. They have to invest those profits somewhere!

Now for any and all who actually took the time to read my long winded comment I hope that I didn’t lose you with the conspiracy theory sentiment at the end. I really would like to see some further refined arguments for the “green-house” affect causing global warming.


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By John Doe, January 29, 2007 at 4:51 pm Link to this comment
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I’ve been following biofuels and other alternative energies for a while now and have to agree that Biodiesel looks like something with a great deal of promise. Whether made from used French fry cooking oil or oil from algae it would be nice to see us all less dependent on so few individuals, other countries, and corporations. It would be really be nice to put some of that power back into the hands of the people.

As for global warming I have been following this topic for about a year now and have continually been perplexed by the array of information/disinformation presented. Of the information presented for the global warming argument I think that the proponents for it have finally won out over the detractors. Let me start out by saying that while I certainly acknowledge this to be the case I personally continue to look for the cause(s) of global warming. 

Every time I see an argument for global warming these days it is presented almost with conviction that energy producers/consumers are the root cause and something needs to be done to fix these wrongs.

Inevitably this takes you to the topic of “green-house gases”. Would somebody please refine this “green-house gases” model so that it makes sense? I continue to see the issue of CO2 emissions and how harmful they are to the atmosphere. How they need to be sequestered to stop the “green-house” affect. If this is true don’t we need to stop drinking carbonated soda and beer in order to be “green”? I have never seen this argument?  Additionally I’m confused as to how CO2 gets to the upper atmosphere where it seems to cause all the problems since CO2 (as far as I know) is heavier than air.

I see arguments regularly that are very well versed such as the one by Donovan Hixson. However I take note of the following citation:

“There is a phenomenon called solar dimming presented by the Nova television show titled Dimming the Sun. (You need to watch this show) This episode chronicles the accidental discovery from two independent scientists that the solar energy reaching the ground level of the planet is steadily less each year due to the visible air pollution we generate.”

While I have not watched the show mentioned when I read the statements of this argument I again feel that something is missing. The article states that particulates in the air may cause a ground level dimming affect that helps to even out the other negative affects of the green-house gases and global warming.

I am not sure that my logic is correct but please bear with me on the following thought:
If the particulates in the air are blocking out the infrared and natural sunlight rays and this keeps the ground from heating wouldn’t the particulates which are being acted upon by these rays then heat up? Since they are part of the low level atmosphere wouldn’t they then disperse this heat into the air and then into the rest of the planet through convection/conduction/ radiation?

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By Mad as Hell, January 29, 2007 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment
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Alcohol and bio-diesel are no more than stop-gap measures.  Both continue to problem of pumping more carbon dioxide into the air than plants can remove.

BUT, they BOTH reduce other pressures on the environment, like the cost and pollution from petroleum refining.
Next they help us toward energy independence.  If your motive fuel no longer comes from OPEC, you are FREE of OPEC and its stranglehold on us.  The economic bounce from this will fund further development.
Third, once free of OPEC and the oil companies, there were no longer be an incentive to bribe GOP congressmen to prevent pollution controls, and energy efficiency incentives.
Fourth, when our main motive fuel is innovative, the incentive to CONTINUE that innovation will become natural.  We get USED to being “green” and are open to the next generation of ideas.

It’s a step in the right direction!

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By Quy Tran, January 29, 2007 at 2:55 pm Link to this comment
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Mrs. Nelson is much much better than Bush’s wife.

Mrs. Nelson please don’t get mad at me when comparing you with Laura Bush.

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By Louise, January 29, 2007 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment
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I’m no scientist, and don’t claim to be, but it seems to me there’s a lot of plain old fashioned common sense in what Annie said. The trick now is to get the driving public to allow common sense to kick in.

I watched a news story recently where a man had converted his car himself and then found a restaurant that sold him their used cooking oil and that’s what he drove on, had been doing so for years. He noted the worst thing coming out of his exhaust pipe was the pleasant odor of French fries.

As I understand it, the biggest environmental offender is the petroleum based fuel we use to operate everything. Since we have millions driving on the highway everyday, what’s wrong with beginning there? Sounds like a great idea to me! In fact, even if we didn’t have a pollution/environmental problem, it’s a great idea. What ever happened to the notion that working together as a community to solve problems was a great idea? It is a great idea! Lets do it!

It’s pretty obvious the government is not going to solve this problem for us. Besides, I for one am fed up with the notion that we should all be held hostage to mega oil corporations, and the auto manufacturers agenda. And that we should all sit around and wait for “George” to do it. Unless or until they can figure out a way to make obscene profits off of our needs, it wont happen! If they were driven by any other motive, they would have done it already!

Now, about those planes. How can we retrofit and alter the fuel requirements for them? Anybody?

Thanks for a great eye-opening article!

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By mite, January 29, 2007 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment
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Good-luck Willey on your biodiesel struggle. Hope the Big Auto and Oil gestopos leave you alone- for the farmers sack anyway.

I watched a movie the other day ‘Who Killed The Electric Car’ by Chris Paine. It documents the story of the General Motors EV1 car run on batteries in 1996, designed by Paul MacCready. Of course GM only let individuals like Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, and Alexandra Paul lease the EV1. No one was allowed to purchase the EV1.

In 2000 GM recalled the electric-cars to be destroyed despite organized protests to purchase them and returned the plant in Lansing, Michigan to gas powered cars again.

Anyone who reads history knows that ‘Big Oil’, ‘Big Auto’ and ‘Government Payoffs’ dominate this constant story of energy.

The existance of ‘Free Energy’ systems is the reason for controlled debate and debate by the big corporations. The main issue is not our present energy systems but who will control the future of cold fusion and other energy sources from space also.

You see there is a really big problem for the oil, utility companies, etc, how to dump their fixed assests of refinery’s, hydro planets, and transmission lines onto the public.

Well good luck to all of us as what is ahead is not going to be fun.

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By Christopher Robin, January 29, 2007 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment
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Sorry but please be skeptical of these claims that we can’t or shouldn’t do this.

This often comes from the oil industry types and government…Who all to often work on the behalf of the cartels. Not the public at large and country as a whole.

Need I point out our FDA administration stopping vehicles on the border and searching for perscription drugs?
Why? to spare us the 50% discount on the very same drugs produced by the same companies here?
No they block re-importation….because they care about your “safety” of course….RIGHT Yeah?...That’s it!

Free-trade except in perscription drugs from Canada?

Nice to know our government can police one border…the “Canadian” one.

Your government works…but it’s not for you in case you haven’t noticed it yet.

To what ever degree this is possible will be a dual fold help, reductions in imported oil, economic devoloment at home. Because this is crop based…it is CO2 neutral ....Which means the plant used (removed from the atmosphere) the same CO2 for growth, as put out by the burning of it as a fuel.

So it’s to our advantage to develop this resource to whatever degree possible. Even if it is or/is not the entire answer yet.

This alone doesn’t alleviate the need for efficiency and the other clean renewable alternatives.

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By anechoic, January 29, 2007 at 1:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Donovan Hixson: very interesting post! is there somewhere online that has more info about the sun dimming/CO2 theory?

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By Steve Hammons, January 29, 2007 at 11:32 am Link to this comment
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Biofuel like Willie Nelson’s product is currently made from organic material such as corn and cotton seed oil.

However, other crops like switchgrass could be far more efficient. Corn and cotton need significant fertilizer and other costly effort to grow.

In South America, sugar cane waste material is used for biofuel.

Another obvious crop to consider because it is cheap and easy to grow is hemp. Of course, hemp also has uses for paper, wood-like products, clothing, food, cosmetics and many other purposes.

Isn’t it time to move forward on hemp cultivation? Canada and many other countries allow hemp farming. Several states in the US have passed laws allowing it.

Kentucky, for example, where tobacco farming is declining, has passed such a law. In earlier times, hemp was a huge crop for Kentucky.

I’m sure Willie Nelson would support this idea.

For more on this topic, the article below may be of interest:

George Washington’s whiskey distillery rebuilt; first president also grew hemp at Mount Vernon

Steve Hammons
American Chronicle
October 11, 2006

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By RAE, January 29, 2007 at 11:12 am Link to this comment
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Thanks to Hixson in #50195 for the refresher course re CO2.

Anyone who doesn’t think CO2 is a killer pollutant please just go get a paper bag and breathe into it for a short while. It’s not the lack of O2 in the bag that generates the panic… it’s the increasing amount of CO2 that triggers a strong negative reaction in our physiology. Unless the percent of CO2 is reduced in our atmosphere, we will all die. It’s that simple.

As stated… we need a mix of fuels to support our modern “civilization.” We should be investing in solar, hydro and wind as top priorities. But biodiesel is sure better than petroleum-based fuel but not by that much.

However, unless BIG OIL can figure a way to make even greater profit in “alternatives” don’t hold your breath to see a reduction in our dependency on petroleum. These greedy monsters will NEVER allow any significant factor to eat into their bottom line… NEVER. If it takes murder, mayhem, war or any other force to protect their cash cow, they will use it… until the last drop of OIL is taken from the earth.

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By trantieungoc, January 29, 2007 at 10:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Yes…“that fuel doesn’t kill us….” but Bush/Cheney and their servants are trying to push this nation and all of us to hell.

We count by seconds until our nation nightmare going to an end.

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By stringbean, January 29, 2007 at 10:19 am Link to this comment
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Attention nerdy yankees- the country folks with their hands on ingenuity are going to once again bail your timid asses out !
Sure is great to be on the road again, Willie.

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By Linda Banks, January 29, 2007 at 9:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this article.  And thanks to Willie and Annie Nelson for all their hard work in promoting alternative fuels.!

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By WCG, January 29, 2007 at 8:42 am Link to this comment
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“Prohibition was probably a whole lot less about alcohol and a whole lot more about killing the renewable energy possibilities. Obviously the petroleum companies were behind it.” Oh, please! How ridiculous can you get? That’s all we need, another conspiracy theory!

Alternative fuels, including biodiesel and ethanol, should definitely be a part of any energy solution, but let’s not go overboard. A lot of the promotion, especially of ethanol in farm states, is based simply on greed for government subsidies. To really solve our energy problems will require a combination of many different ingredients, none of which are likely to make a huge difference by themselves, except perhaps for nuclear power and conservation (and probably solar power, eventually).

Yes, I said the “n” word, but let’s not go ballistic. I’m saying that’s probably part of the solution, but only part. We need an approach that investigates every potential energy source, because we use a LOT of oil. And EVERY alternative has its downside. If it was easy to replace oil, we’d have done it already. This won’t be easy, but it IS necessary. So let’s use logic and science, and not let prejudice or wishful thinking get in our way.

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