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Tuesday, 04 December 2007

How Green was the Green Man? - Page 4

Written by Matthew Alan Taylor
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Can 45,000 people journey vast distances to a lifeless desert and participate in an environmentally sustainable festival devoted to burning stuff? This year, Burning Man attempted to do just that: go green.


The Sustainable Living Road Show encampment proudly proclaimed that its busses run on biofuels. Its members disagree with the notion that such language helps the biofuels industry.


Sustainable Living Road ShowThe Sustainable Living Road Show crew is proud to promote biofuels, which critics charge is propaganda for corporate-driven, unethical practices.



“As we’re promoting biofuels, we’re talking about ethical, sustainable biofuels, because not all biofuels are ethical or sustainable,” said Road Show member Jonathan Youtt of San Francisco.

Two experimental biofuel technologies were rolled out at Black Rock City: algae bioreactors and gasification. While neither played a role in greening the event, they served as previews of what the future might (or might not) hold.

Situated underneath the Green Pavilion, the Chlorophyll Collective displayed a truck-size “bioreactor” with algae in plastic tubes furiously munching away on CO2 emissions from a generator. A sign characterized the technology as “The Single-Cell Solution for Global Warming: greenhouse-gas eating algae.”Algae

According to Bayview resident Meg “Algae Girl” Bracken, director of the Chlorophyll Collective, “Algae can solve many of the problems of our industrial society. They can produce much more food, fertilizer, and/or biofuels per acre than any other crop, and they can be grown on wastewater or salt water, on marginal land, or even on the surface of bodies of water. Algae can clean water and air, and build soil. Many algae are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients (such as omega-3 fatty acids) and make excellent additions to the diets of people and animals.”

Bracken states that if certain cost and technical barriers can be surmounted, algae has the potential to be a much more efficient source of biofuel than any other. “The amount of oil that we can harvest from algae is already much, much higher than the amount we can harvest from traditional oilseeds,” she states.

Bracken says algae ethanol would be a non-emitting, “closed loop” system: “The high amounts of CO2 produced in the process of fermenting alcohol or ethanol can be fed directly to algae which then grows profusely and can be harvested to make ethanol.” She sees algae as a potential salve to global greenhouse gas emissions.

But UC Berkeley Professor of Geoengineering Tad Patzek sees the Chlorophyll Collective’s ambitions as wholly unrealistic.

“Algae indeed are very useful at cleaning up sewage streams and can be converted into fertilizer, but that’s on a relatively small scale and has very little to do with saving the planet from global CO2 emissions. In order to absorb the emissions of a coal-fired power plant, you’d have to put a million of these bioreactors side-by-side. It’s simply not scalable.”

“People are ready to believe anything. Their deep wishful thinking has been confronted by reality in the case of corn and palm oil biofuels. People automatically reach for the next imaginary solution, and since algae hasn’t been thoroughly tested yet, it’s the next candidate,” added Patzek

(Page 4 of 10)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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