They’re on the cover of both this month’s National Geographic and Wired. They were mentioned in the State of the Union address. They’re raising hundreds of millions of dollars in venture capital — and yet they sometimes smell like French fries. Yep, we’re talking about biofuels. Heck, everyone is talking about them, be they in the form of biodiesel, vegetable oil, or ethanol from corn, cellulose, sugar cane or algae. Below is a very preliminary introduction to what biofuels look like agriculturally, chemically, environmentally, economically and musically. If you want even more information, check out Earth2Tech’s extensive coverage.
Here’s where corn ethanol starts, with Zea mays grown in a farmer’s field. The feature film King Corn explores what happens when two East Coast city slickers head out to the corn belt and make a go at understanding the crop. The reality of modern agribusiness is a far cry from the Jeffersonian citizen farmer, and the film looks to be an interesting examination of agricultural socio-economics.
Profiled as “the veteran” of the cellulosic ethanol industry in this month’s Wired cover story, Dartmouth professor Lee Lynd is looking to simplify the process of producing the biofuel by combining two steps — first, of converting cellulose to sugar, then of fermenting sugar into alcohol — into one. Called consolidated bioprocessing, or CBP, Lynd hopes to achieve this by coaxing his cellulase-producing bacterium friend Clostridium thermocellum into fermenting ethanol…at a profit. Ay, there’s the rub.
Global Warming and Ethanol
Sometimes a little Lester Brown is all you need. While critics frame him as a “doom and gloom” environmentalist, Brown, who’s spent more than half a century in the environmental field and has published over twenty books on the subject, is one of the most respected voices in the community. In this short clip, he cuts to the chase on corn ethanol to look at its fundamental inefficiencies.
A surefire way to boost the liberal intellectual cred of your video project is to get Noam Chomsky to sit down and talk on camera with you. Filmmakers Joey Carey and J.J. Beck also interviewed celebrities-cum-biofuels converts Morgan Freeman, Yoko Ono, and Tommy Chong in their cross-country trip in a vegetable oil-powered Mercedes. They’re not the first to do it, but they were the first to get on YouTube’s front page.
Willie Nelson is by far the biggest legitimate celebrity in the biofuel world. Appealing to his audience of diesel-powered truck drivers, Nelson markets his own brew of biodiesel called BioWillie. Any Willie Nelson joke I might attempt here has surely been done before, so I’ll end by directing you to BioWillie’s marketing page where you can find “trucker testimonials,” BioWillie trucker hats and guitar picks, as well as signage for your pump station.
MC Escher is “spittin’ rhymes” as D’Genetics produces. It sounds like a joke from a Weird Al song. Oh wait, it is. Still, these guys from Kick the Oil Habit took a transcontinental road trip in a vehicle powered by their biofuel of choice, ethanol. Sounds like someone I know. But I never came up with phat lines like: “I love Halle Berry, not Halliburton.”