Tag Archives: biofuel

Bunny Fuel

Sweden uses bunnies as biofuel? That sounds pretty horrific at first, but after doing some research on the topic, I can see where they are coming from. In the past several years, the rabbit population has exploded in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital. These bunnies are not native to Sweden but have grown in population due to domestic rabbits being released into public parks. It might sound like a good thing that owners are freeing their pet bunnies into the wild instead of ignoring them and not giving them the attention they need.

However, these rabbits are multiplying quickly and are becoming detrimental to the environment in the Swedish capital. They are quickly mowing down the parks they now inhabit. The simplest and easiest solution to this problem was to just kill the rabbits. In 2008, the animal control authorities culled 6,000 rabbits, according to Tommy Tunvuynger who is the spokesman for the Stockholm Traffic Office (the agency responsible for rodent and wild animal population control in the city). [1]

The city actually started killing the bunnies in 2006, but they realized that there was another problem that arose: where would they get rid of the carcasses? The European Union had already passed a law that made it illegal to dump raw meat or carcasses into landfills, so what could the city do? [2] And the obvious answer to them was to freeze the bunnies after killing them and incinerate them as fuel to heat buildings and homes.

Of course, many Swedes were flabbergasted and enraged by the city’s decision. Anna Johanneson from the Society for the Protection of Wild Rabbits said that “[i]t feels like they’re trying to turn the animals into an industry rather than look at the main problem.” [3] She and many other animal rights advocates have suggested other options to solve the problem, such as spraying the parks with chemicals that would make the plants unappetizing to the bunnies. Tuvuynger replies that “[i]f you do that you only move the problem 100 meters away. Overpopulation is not good for the animals’ well-being because they use up limited natural resources for survival, so shooting them is the only answer.” [2]

It turns out that rabbits are not the only animals being used to keep Swedes warm. Reindeer, pigs, moose, cows, and horses are also sent to the same incinerator that the bunnies are sent to. The incinerator is run by a firm southeast of Stockholm called Konvex. The director of Konvex, Leo Virta, says that actually, the rabbits only make up a small portion of the total biofuel being produced, the majority coming from cows, pigs, and moose. They basically ground up the raw animal material and put them into a boiler to burn along with wood chips, peat, or other animal wastes to generate heat. Virta says that the system is efficient because it kills two birds with one stone: it provides heat and solves the animal waste problem. In fact, “[o]ne hundred thousand tons of raw materials can generate enough heat for 11,000 homes a year.” [2] Waste not, right?

Killing animals for biofuel is actually not very common in Europe, but thanks to the European Union law restricting the disposal of raw meat and carcasses, using animal by-products for fuel is becoming an ordinary practice. In Britain, for example, expired and unsold meats in supermarkets are being shipped to companies and transformed into biofuel to heat buildings and homes. Saria, a German biofuel company, uses animal fats and cooking oil from restaurants and converts them into fuel for power stations and manufacturing plants. The company found that “using animal oil instead of vegetable oil is not only a cheaper alternative, but it also produces less harmful emissions, delivers better engine efficiency and reduces noise pollution.” [2]

It turns out that America also has a similar law that restricts the dumping of raw meat into landfills. The U.S., too, has since been jumping onto the animal-based biofuel bandwagon. In 2007, ConocoPhillips (a major energy company) and Tyson (a major meat processor company) combined forces to use pork and chicken fats as biofuel for the “on-road” market. [2] Does this mean that America might also start directly using animals for fuel in the future?

I personally feel that the solution Sweden has come up with seems logical given their situation. Yes, it is very sad that bunnies are being killed, but as mentioned by Tuvuynger, overpopulation of the critters is also not a good thing. Although, I do not agree that killing them is the only option. Tuvuynger has also said that “[p]eople like the rabbits because they are pretty. What else can we do with them though? We can’t give them bunny birth control pills. So we have to put the rabbits away.” [2] Bunny birth control pills definitely sounds laughable, but is making the rabbits sterile actually such a bad idea? Instead of killing the rabbits, perhaps we could capture them and make them sterile before releasing them again. It does not seem so far-fetched to me since researchers capture animals and tag them all the time before releasing them again. Instead of tagging, we could make the animals sterile. However, this might be more trouble than it is worth because people would have to be hired to capture the rabbits. More people and materials would also have to be hired to perform the procedure making the rabbits sterile. Still, this I feel is a valid option to consider.

I also think that spraying the parks with chemicals to avert the rabbits (as suggested by Johanneson) is a very naïve approach. If the parks are sprayed, then the bunnies would simply just move to another suitable area and continue being pests. Also, it would be hard to ensure that these chemicals would only affect the rabbits. The chemicals might also avert other animals in the area, causing them to also move to another area and create an imbalance in another environment. But let’s just say that all areas are sprayed with this chemical (which I think is highly improbable) and that the chemical only affects rabbits. Then the rabbits would have to fight over a very limited if any food source and might starve to death. There would be dead bunnies everywhere! Why waste the materials and let them rot? You might say that other animals could eat the bodies instead, but as it was mentioned before, rabbits were not native to Sweden. The animals in the area could probably survive without the bunnies just fine.

I find it interesting that people are making such a big fuss over using rabbits as fuel but are not really complaining about using cows or pigs. I feel that it is because we use pigs and cows as a food source but not bunnies, so people are not used to the idea of slaughtering such cute furry animals. I also cringe at the idea of killing bunnies and using them for fuel, but I can understand why Stockholm made the decisions that it did. Besides, as I said before, waste not, right?

 

References

  1. Landes, D. (2009, October 12). Stockholm’s bunnies burned to keep Swedes warm.
    Retrieved March 3, 2013, from The Local: Sweden’s News in English website:
    http://www.thelocal.se/22610/20091012/#.UTOmejCgTmc
  2. Kelly, T. (2009, November 28). Energizer Bunnies: Turning Rabbits into Green
    Fuel. Retrieved March 3, 2013, from Time: Business and Money website:
    http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1941230,00.html
  3. Bunnies for Biofuel: How Sweden Heats its Homes. (2009, October 14). Retrieved
    March 3, 2013, from ABC News website: http://abcnews.go.com/International/
    rabbits-burned-fuel-sweden/story?id=8824540
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Biofuel Feedstock: Corn Vs. Algae

When it comes to biofuel feedstock in the United States, corn is king. In 2012, more than more than 40% of the US corn crop was used to produce corn ethanol, and this percentage continues to grow [1]. Unless the federal government intervenes, the EPA’s new Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS2) program will require the use of 13.8 billion gallons of renewable fuels in 2013, almost double the amount mandated in 2012 [2, 3].

As opposition to the use of corn as a biofuel feedstock grows among a diverse group—including petroleum producers, petroleum refiners, environmentalists and food processors—the need for a stable, environmentally friendly and economically viable alternative remains a necessity.

One such alternative feedstock being considered is algae, which has a number of theoretical benefits over corn when produced at scale. To begin with, they grow quickly and are more efficient than terrestrial plants at converting solar energy [4]. By some estimates, algae produce 2-20 times more oil than corn or similar crops [5]. They can also be grown domestically, on arid land, in brackish water or in saline aquifers, improving US energy security and freeing up valuable arable land [6]. In addition, they can be harvested almost continuously and they consume waste CO2 [7].

What’s the catch? Despite an estimated 200 companies working on algal biofuels in 2010, a scalable and financially viable industry does not yet exist [8]. In order to reach this goal, further R&D is needed to help identify the most productive algae strains, establish suitable locations for development and reduce capital costs and production costs. Additional life-cycle assessment studies also need to be done to ensure positive net benefits for governments and society [9].

So does corn face any competition from algae as an emerging biofuel feedstock? The short answer would be no, at least not yet. Although the algal biofuel market is expected to grow 43% between 2010 and 2015, production projections for 2015 are only a fraction of the current level of biofuel use mandated by RFS2 [10].

It is clear that the nascent algal biofuel industry must first overcome significant technological and economic obstacles before it can be commercially viable on a national level. Nevertheless, it remains a prospective and potentially disruptive alternative to corn ethanol, especially if guided by efficient policy design that promotes technological advancement.

As a component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, The Department of Energy provided millions of dollars for algae biofuel research to public and private research institutions, including Arizona State University, the University of California, San Diego and Cellana LLC Consortium in Hawaii. Additional funding for research into algal biofuel technology has come from major oil companies, such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Eni.

Nonetheless, the future of algal biofuel or “green” crude remains uncertain. With an estimated breakeven point of $240 a barrel, it still cannot come close to competing with today’s $90-100 a barrel cost for crude oil [11]. On the other hand, assuming that aggressive reductions in capital costs and production costs for algal biofuel occur over the next 5-10 years, a future national energy mix including cheap algal biofuel remains a possibility.

References:

[1] Carter, Colin. “Corn for Food, Not Fuel.” New York Times. Accessed February 21, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/31/opinion/corn-for-food-not-fuel.html?_r=1&.

[2] Zamorano Cadaviz, Alejandro. “US Biofuels in 2013: Stories to Watch.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Accessed February 25, 2013. http://bnef.com/WhitePapers/download/280.

[3] Philp, Jim C., et al. “Biofuel Development and the Policy Regime.” Trends in Biotechnology, Volume 31, Issue 1, 4-6, 20 November 2012. doi:10.1016/j.tibtech.2012.10.001

[4] Darzins, Al, et al. “Algae as a Feedstock for Biofuels—An Assessment of the Current Status and Potential for Algal Biofuels Production.” International Energy Administration, September 2011. Accessed February 22, 2013. http://www.ieabioenergy.com/MediaItem.aspx?id=6965

[5] Pike Research. “Algae-Based Biofuels: Demand Drivers, Policy Issues, Emerging Technologies, Key Industry Players, and Global Market Forecasts.” Pike Research. Accessed February 26, 2013. http://www.pikeresearch.com/research/algae-based-biofuels.

[6] National Research Council. Sustainable Development of Algal Biofuels in the United States . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012.

[7] Darzins, Al, et al. February 2013.

[8] Nash, Keune. “Algae: Fuel of the Future?” National Review. Accessed February 23, 2013. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/292913/algae-fuel-future-nash-keune.

[9] Philp, Jim C., et al. November 2012.

[10] Darzins, Al, et al. February 2013.

[11] Lundquist, T.J., “A Realistic Technology and Engineering Assessment,” Energy Biosciences Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California. October 2010. http://www.energybiosciencesinstitute.org/sites/default/files/media/AlgaeReportFINAL.pdf

Additional References:

Anoop Singh, Stig Irving Olsen, “A critical review of biochemical conversion, sustainability and life cycle assessment of algal biofuels,” Applied Energy, Volume 88, Issue 10, October 2011, Pages 3548-3555, ISSN 0306-2619, doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2010.12.012.

Foroohar, Kambiz. “Exxon $600 million algae investment makes Khosla See pipe Dream.” Bloomberg Markets Magazine. Accessed February 24, 2013. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-06-03/exxon-600-million-algae-investment-spurs-khosla-to-dismiss-as-pipe-dream.html.

Fifield, Anna. “Lobbyists Fight Over Ethanol Subsidies.” Financial Times. February 10, 2013. http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/a2c27506-720a-11e2-896a-00144feab49a.html#axzz2MAAKm0NW.

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Biomass: The usual and the unusual…

I think back to the class discussion in which the topic of using rabbits as a form of biomass to burn for fuel as an energy source, and thinking that that was strange to me. In Sweden of all places… My girlfriend is Swedish, so I thought it was funny and jokingly gave her a hard time about it… I just thought, “of all the things to use… I guess there must be a real abundance of rabbits there.” It got me interested, so I wanted to look a little more into it and see exactly what the deal is with that because I just do not see something like that ever happening in the United States.

Sure enough, in doing some reading about this, it seems that there are too many rabbits in Stockholm’s parks. According to a report by the BBC, these rabbits are not native to the area, and so many of them are there because they are the offspring of released pets. These rabbits breed to make more rabbits, and since they do not have any “natural predators,” the population simply does not decline. The major problem is that they are destroying the parks, so hunters are capturing and freezing the rabbits. Why? For eventual use in heating plants in Karlskoga for home heating. The rabbits are apparently “crushed, ground and pumped to a boiler to be burned with wood chips, peat or waste.” The final product is the production of heat, or what a spokesperson referred to as “renewable heat.”

Also, according to the article, the reactions over this whole process seem to be mixed. On the one hand, the residents of the town of Karlskoga do not seem to have an issue with this, while the people of Stockholm seem to be divided. Animal rights activists in the city do not believe that the treatment of the rabbits is good and would like this process stopped altogether.

This whole situation has me wondering about the different forms of biomass that are consumed in the world, and in the United States. A common form of biomass, and perhaps one of the oldest forms, is wood. In east Texas, especially, there is an abundance of trees that can be used as biomass for biomass plants. Other areas in Texas, however, seem to use certain crops to burn as energy for heating and electricity. A breakdown provided by the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) provides a breakdown of the use of these different fuels. Another interesting thing to note is that, according to SECO, Governor Rick Perry awarded a $5 million grant to Texas A&M University, in partnership with Chevron, to research the use of cellulose in corn to be used as biofuel for heating and power plants in Texas.

I also wondered about other unusual forms of biomass. It seems that, aside from burning wood and certain types of crops, some places also burn garbage, land fill gas and manure, according to one article. This would seem like a really good idea, however I wonder about the health hazards associated with the burning of such fuels. If these fuels are burned, wouldn’t they release harmful gases and bacteria into the air? I would think certain precautions would need to be taken. These are my thoughts on this energy type, let me know if anyone has any thoughts.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8309156.stm

http://www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/re_biomass-regional.htm

http://www.seco.cpa.state.tx.us/re_biomass.htm

http://www.need.org/needpdf/infobook_activities/SecInfo/BiomassS.pdf

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