Thursday, October 21, 2010

Today's WTF Policy: USDA Money Goes to....

big picture agriculture

Yesterday, on my Ag news Update thread, I included the WSJ article, (Bio)Mass Confusion: High costs and environmental concerns have pushed biomass power to the sidelines in the U.S. The key sentence was, "Biomass power costs more to produce than power derived from fossil fuels, largely because it requires more labor to chip up wood and truck it to plants, industry executives say."

The problem with biomass is logistics. With switchgrass, for example, massive storage facilities need to be built next to plants to dry the grass bales prior to burning, not to mention the inputs necessary to harvest and transport the volumes of "mass." With wood, you need to harvest it, haul it, then try to burn it in the least polluting way possible. In wooded areas it makes some sense and it's been used as a supplement to electricity generation in some places such as Minnesota for many years. As FF's become more expensive, it will make more sense, too.

But, now, excuse me. I just have to call in one of my favorite Henry David Thoreau quotes from a book that I have:
I just put another stick into my stove,---a pretty large mass of white oak. How many men will do enough this cold winter to pay for the fuel that will be required to warm them? I suppose I have burned up a pretty good-sized tree tonight,---and for what?

I settled with Mr. Tarbell for it the other day; but that wasn't the final settlement. I got off cheaply from him. At last, one will say, "Let us see, how much wood did you burn, sir?" And I shall shudder to think that the next question will be, "What did you do while you were warm?" Do we think the ashes will pay for it? that God is an ash-man?

Back to today's USDA announcement, "Vilsack announces biomass subsidies in the name of "advanced biofuels." The subsidy focus is directed differently than the biomass article from the WSJ, which is biomass for power generation, but the biomass problems related to advanced biofuels far exceed the biomass problems related to power generation since the technology isn't even there and many doubt that it ever will be.

There you have it.