Clearly biofuels have become a major piece of the pie when it comes to filling up our internal combustion engines, and for good reason. Not only might biofuels produce fewer carbon emissions than fossil fuels, they are also a renewable resource and reduce our dependency on oil imports.
Like any technology, biofuel technology has some disadvantages as well. Water usage, food security and monoculture are just a few of the concerns facing a biofuel future. But as oil prices rise and the demand for alternative energy increases, companies all over the world are preparing to take further advantage of the biofuel boom.
It’s not just global corporations who can reap the rewards of biofuel technology. Unlike fossil fuels, which require massive infrastructure in drilling, refining and transporting, biodiesel has the potential for grassroots development. We might even see more community- or home-based biofuel production in the not-so-distant future.
Naturally as a grower, you know the power your plants hold. As such, you are in the perfect position to capitalize and make a positive impact on the coming biodiesel wave by confronting the challenges with a combination of growing and entrepreneurial know-how.
Hydroponics growers intrinsically understand that there are “x-factors” at play with any crop, synergistic reactions in nature that really give some oomph to the growing process and yield results that you can weigh. Big Ag and Big Energy currently think in terms of scale over savvy growing. But as biofuels become localized, the gains in yield that an experienced grower can make will be all the more noticeable.
Growers also know the difference between a viable or nonviable operation in terms of getting the sort of return on investment you need in order to fund your gig and keep moving forward. With most biofuel manufacturers existing at least partially on government subsidies, this independent thinking can put you at a competitive advantage in the long run.
Hydroponics growers could hold the key to really driving biofuel technology forward thanks to our proven ability to produce ten times the yield of conventional agriculture in the same amount of space by using different management methods and cropping inputs. Think this is grandiose? I know home growers who get a yield from their closet that would have required an entire outdoor garden patch just 25 years ago. Imagine what hydroponic techniques could mean for producing biofuel feedstock over the next 25 years!
However, before we move ahead to the future, let’s have a quick look at the road biofuels seem to be on. First, what exactly constitutes a biofuel?
One accepted definition is as follows: “Biofuels are produced from living organisms or from metabolic by-products (organic or food waste products). In order to be considered a biofuel, the fuel must contain over 80 percent renewable materials.”
AND It’s Not Just From Corn...
Most of us who have heard anything about biofuels have likely heard that it’s from corn crop sources. Great. More corn, right? While a vast majority of current biofuels come from corn (Big Ag and government joining forces to buy votes in Iowa), where it gets really interesting is that biofuels can come from fungi or even algae. Talk about renewable!
That’s correct. Russian scientists discovered that they were able to isolate significant quantities of lipids from single-cell fungi, and that those lipids could be converted economically and efficiently into biofuel for use in such things as combustion engines. Imagine that: fuel from fungus.
As a modern hydroponics grower, you may already be using beneficial fungi in your garden. These fungi have the power to produce growth-promoting substances and antibiotics, to convert nutrients, and more. All so that your plants stay healthier and ultimately yield more at harvest time. With that in mind, the idea of fungi making fuel may not prove to be such a leap to those of us who know the power that even something as seemingly simple as a mushroom can hold.
As growers, we also know the power of life from the ocean. For example, the chitins we find in the shells of shrimp and crab contain hormone-like substances that build stronger plants that pump out more essential oils. We know that kelp is a powerful source of energy for crop growth too, creating more branches and flowering sites in less time when applied with our regular plant feedings.
Savvy growers even apply very particular kelp isolates found in products like Bud Ignitor. These isolates can create profound improvements on cropping, like earlier and stronger flowering responses.
Interestingly, a fellow by the name of Michael Biggs published a paper suggesting that it is possible to grow algae species that have a natural oil content of 50% or more. At the time of publication, it was reported that this technology had not yet been developed on a commercial scale. However, Prof. Rodrigo E. Teixeira from the University of Alabama (Huntsville) showed that biofuel material could be extracted from wet algae “using a simple and economical reaction in ionic lipids.” Needless to say, there are lots of sources of energy already here with us, many of them excellent candidates for delivering renewable and clean fuel. This fuel can power our modern indoor gardens to current production standards.
Imagine a day when you can pop your crop waste and lawn clippings into your backyard reactor, pump a few gallons of the resulting fuel out and drive off in your electric-assisted car to the grow store so you can do it all again. That day may not be too far off. Or perhaps it’s already here.
Believe it or not, you can purchase books and informational packages on how to get started with your own DIY biofuel production. One such book is Making Algae Biodiesel at Home, which introduces the reader to a full range of biodiesel possibilities, from small-scale algae generation all the way up to large-scale production, and what they advertise as effective home extraction methods.
So who is in the best position to capitalize on biofuels? Every grower knows most things grow faster with lots of water and warm sunny weather. However, as we are learning, the potential sources for biofuel materials are very diverse, suggesting that there are possibilities for all nations to have some level of production.
At present, research suggests that it is not ecologically or economically viable to simply grow conventional crops like corn on scarce agricultural land in order to convert those crops into biofuel. First of all, a large portion of our agricultural land needs to go to food if we expect to survive, and secondly, cultivating crops for biofuels creates waste that needs to be addressed.
For example, in Brazil, the bio-energy used to generate electricity for about 40,000 people also produces organic-based wastes equivalent to a sewage deposit for 2,000,000 people. This is where we come back to that x-factor, the reactions and occurrences in nature that are already there just waiting to be harnessed. After all, one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure.
If we look around, there are living, highly renewable, task-specific sources of energy all around us. These energy sources might even be some of the very same ones you are currently using in your grow to propel your crop to bigger yields. Can better biofuels be far behind?
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Wednesday, 17 April 2013