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The Sensible Method of Transitioning from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Fuels

April 15, 2009

By Warren Turner, Farmers Growing Fuel (USA)

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It is no secret to any informed person that the United States and the rest of the world must stop burning fossil fuels if we are to survive as a people and a planet.  All intelligent scientific information points out that CO2 emissions into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for climate change that will eventually cause the demise of planet Earth and its inhabitants.

Such global indicators now abound:

  1. More frequent extreme weather.
  2. Disappearing glaciers.
  3. Melting Arctic Sea ice.
  4. Melting Antarctic Sea ice.
  5. Greenland’s ice sheet melting.
  6. Tropical diseases spreading
  7. Oceans warming with coral bleaching and disintegration.

The warming of the oceans caused by climate change has set in motion the death of worldwide coral reefs, which will disappear in the next 50 years, and their destruction is irreversible.  The loss of coral reefs is equivalent to the loss of tropical rain forests.

In the Peruvian Andes, where 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers exist, a quarter of the glacial ice has melted since 1970, and all glaciers will disappear in the next 10 years if global warming of the previous 10 years goes unchanged.  Peru’s glaciers provide water for rivers and streams that the population relies on for all water needs, including 80% of electricity, which is derived from hydroelectric sources.  Eighteen million people—2/3 the population of Peru—who live on the arid Pacific Coast, will be forced to relocate when water provided by glacial ice disappears.

In northern India, an area already facing severe water scarcity, a half-billion people who depend on the water from the glacier-fed Indus and Ganges Rivers are in danger as Himalayan glaciers melt at an accelerated rate. 

Such examples—and a multitude of others—demand that governments immediately initiate policies to discontinue burning fossil fuels and begin a transition to produce and utilize renewable fuels. There is no doubt that pressure to maintain the status quo from companies now engaged in the production of fossil fuels will be forthcoming and persuasive.  But intelligent and enlightened leaders must face the environmental reality that the future of the Earth and all its inhabitants is at stake.

The sensible method for governments to initiate this transition is to allow and encourage farmers to participate in all phases of the development, production,
distribution and sales of renewable fuels, and to level the playing field so that farmers and small producers have equal opportunity to receive the same renewable fuels incentives, benefits, and rewards as large producers enjoy.

To deny this right is to lose the participation, cooperation, brainpower, and manpower of thousands of intelligent and intuitive individuals whose very inclusion will propel the development of renewable fuels programs exponentially.  To succeed at modern farming is to be a mechanical engineer—and to invent, develop, and adapt equipment, methods, material, processes and procedures as necessity dictates—all attributes necessary to provide intuitive ideas and solutions for the development of renewable fuels programs.

The key to the rapid and successful formulation of renewable fuels programs, therefore, is to give farmers the necessary tools and equipment they need to be well-equipped and active participants.  Now is the perfect time to provide grants and loans for necessary equipment to farmers who request them and who will use them; and who, by their participation and industry, will provide the groundwork for successful renewable fuels programs.

The crops of sugar cane and sweet sorghum lend themselves very well to on-farm and small-scale production of ethanol.   Juice containing simple sugars is extracted from the stalks of each, and is easily fermented, then distilled.  But this on-farm process requires planters and harvesters, and presses to extract the juice from the stalks, and fermentation tanks and distillation equipment to produce ethanol from the juice.  Such equipment should be made available to farmers by federal and state agencies that deal with agriculture and energy, and renewable fuels in particular, and funding can be provided from appropriate federal and state renewable fuels stimulus sources.

Grants for land leases should be provided to farmers who will grow the feedstock crops, and crop insurance must be provided for ALL feedstock fuel crops, as further incentive to grow such crops and guarantee the success of renewable fuels programs, as well as to avert loss from any unforeseen occurrences of problematic weather conditions. 

And a guaranteed market for all renewable fuels produced is a prerequisite.

Therefore, the sensible way to transition from burning fossil fuels and begin successful renewable fuels programs in the United States is for appropriate federal and state agencies to:

  1. Sanction and encourage farmers to participate in all phases of renewable fuels programs.
  2. Grant farmers the same incentives and rewards as all other producers.
  3. Supply farmers’ material and equipment needs.
  4. Guarantee farmers an immediate and constant market for the renewable fuels they produce.
  5. Immediately begin an infrastructure development program to facilitate the storage, sale, and distribution of farm-produced renewable fuels—both ethanol and biodiesel. 

There are approximately 2 ½ million farmers in the United States.  If a million farmers each produced 25,000 gallons of ethanol from sweet sorghum on 100 acres of land—easily accomplished, even in a one-crop growing season in most areas of the country—the result would be the annual production of 25 billion gallons of ethanol.

The merit of on-farm production of ethanol is obvious: and the further merit of enlisting the aid of thousands of farmers in providing solutions for the rapid development of successful nationwide renewable fuels programs is also obvious.

Warren Turner
Chairman, Farmers Growing Fuel
Vice President, Sweet Sorghum Ethanol Association
April 15, 2009