lunes, 21 de mayo de 2007

Jatropha - Not Guilty, North Carolina Biodiesel Legislation, Named Destiny

I learned this week via the blog that North Carolina legislators have proposed to narrow the definition that the state will apply to the term "biodiesel". Changing the definition of "biodiesel" to match ASTM D6751 may seem like a good idea, but it is actually just North Carolina legislature shooting themselves (and their state) in the foot. The EPA has created very clear guidelines (but with provisions for flexibility as the science and technology may change in the future) as to what constitutes a fuel that meets their "renewable fuel standard". Obviously existing biodiesel producers are likely to herald this as landmark exemplary legislation, but by trying to narrow the strict definition of "biodiesel" to only the "Fatty Acid Methyl Ester" type just eliminates a lot of other productive and constructive methods that can meet fuel needs while enhancing the environment. Creating a disincentive to these other forms of renewable diesel is just likely to cause alternative fuel makers to shun North Carolina because of such a discriminatory practice.

Now, admittedly, my company is one that has a horse in this race. We remain flexible but we are aiming primarily at converting various forms of manure as well as municipal sewage sludge into renewable diesel. We have no particular plans to develop an operation in North Carolina in the foreseeable future, but why would we want to establish a facility where our kind of diesel is legally considered a "second class" product with respect to favorable legislative treatment?

I would recommend that NC legislators consider simply adopting the federal standard as set forth in the EPA rule making published recently, and thus maintain a level playing field with the rest of the states with respect to the prospect of attracting other renewable (green) fuel producers. It is nice to be able to help your friends, but one needs to be careful that one doesn't disadvantage one's self from one's neighbors in the process.

I would like to offer some praise for the H2003 bill that marks taxes proportionate to BTU content as a very sensible move. Taxing based on volume alone is an overly simplistic method that again creates a non-level playing field. I don't know that the ratio proposed of 71% for E85 is precise, but the concept is a good one in my opinion. High percentage blends are, initially at least, likely to come at a premium price to begin with, so taxing on volume alone is penalizing those who are taking the vanguard position on moving our economy away from foreign oil dependency. Representative Harrison and supporters should get a nice pat on the back.

Very often people "grow" into their names. I mean that in a quite literal sense. I may even have mentioned before, my cousin married her sweetheart whose last name was Blood. He chose as his profession to be a doctor. Dr. Blood doesn't happen to be a hematologist, but it certainly seems he fits the name. Less strange perhaps is that their eldest daughter is also going into medicine, another Dr. Blood.

Probably a lot less interesting to readers, but a very interesting incident in my past was that I happened to be present when renowned Hollywood stuntman and action movie director Hal Needham was talking to his staff about creating a name for a new "camera platform" they, collectively, had designed and built and were proposing to market. Now, in truth, this innovative "platform" was a truck, but like the Chapman crane (specifically used to elevate and move cameras) it needed a brand identity. Hal, wisely wanted a single word name to brand his truck. He said he wished he had a unique name like Cadillac, or Packard, but underneath, though not short of ego, he was modest enough to think that it would be difficult to sell, "the Needham". Eventually they settled on the name "Shotmaker". I don't know how many of those trucks they actually ever built and sold, but it seemed sensible at the time, and I saw the ads for years in Hollywood trade magazines.

A less fortunate case came to my attention this week. An article discussing the first shipment of product from a biodiesel plant in Wisconsin run by the Sanimax company was titled, "DeForest Biodiesel Plant Ships Load of Biodiesel." Somehow the whole idea of building a "green" energy operation in a town called "DeForest" sounds like insufficient planning, or at minimum a lack of adequate publicity to find a different regional name to be associated with its location. Okay, maybe it is just the mood I am in. My wife just got a phone call that she won a small prize in a raffle she had forgotten we entered several months ago. On the other hand, Sanimax was a "rendering" company before they began the biodiesel operation. They now use a process that has multiple feedstock sources including animal and vegetable oils to produce a projected 20 million gallons a year of ASTM spec biodiesel. So that, in itself does seem like a move in a positive direction.

I think I will save a renewed look at algae as a source for oily feedstock to the F.A.M.E. (Fatty Acid Methyl Esters) method of producing true "biodiesel" fuels. The company that has announced it is selling their American designed and constructed algae to biodiesel plants to South Africa in significant numbers has been seeking publicity of late, and it looks like they are doing a good job, whether or not they are getting the attention they deserve.

Meanwhile, I did want to mention that someone pointed me towards an environmental group's evaluation of jatropha as a "threat" to Hawaiian vegetation. (Did he really say that? Yes, he did, though that was not his opinion, just repeating what the report said.) Last time I disagreed with an environmentalist (if you've been reading my columns) you saw the result. Nevertheless, I will not be cowed when I encounter bull.

A group called "HEAR" (the Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk project) gave a rather nasty rating to jatropha that has been received by some folks as discouraging news to the possibility of establishing jatropha plantations on the sunny slopes of Hawaiia that might well help at least a little bit in reducing energy costs in those remote islands. The HEAR report slams Jatropha as a "highly invasive" species, and busily points out that it is considered a "weed" in several jurisdictions. Specifically, the report (originally produced by the University of Hawaii's Botany Department) says that it is "listed" as a "weed" in Western Australia, Brazil, Fiji, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Panama, Puerto Rico, and Salvador. They also go on to say that other species of jatropha are classed as weeds, "J. gowypifolia and J. eureaus are listed as common weeds in Inida [sic] and Puerto Rico respectively; Jatropha gossypifolia in northern Australia." There are other arguments against the species (although lumping other members of the genus in with jatropha curcas does seem like convicting a person based on the bad reputation of their cousins in Sicily or other foreign climes) but I will deal with those in a moment. For the present, let us consider what is the definition of a "weed"? (Let's skip the ones that say "weed" is equivalent to "maryjane".) According to Random House at "weed" is defined primarily this way: "1. a valueless plant growing wild, esp. one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop." Similarly, Douglas Harper's Online Etymology Dictionary has the single definition: "plant not valued for use or beauty". The hardiness of the plant is being held against it because it can become invasive, but "weed" hardly applies to the best (by volume) non-edible oil producing plant currently available. The usefulness alone disqualifies it from the category of weed. The seeds are not carried away by birds or other animals so plantation cultivated bushes/trees should hardly be a major threat to native species, especially since plantation owners would find it against their economic interests to have the stuff growing wild rather than confined to their plantations. As to the other problems that give jatropha curcas a poor rating on this U. of H. scale, they are that although it is: "(1)"Jatropha is not browsed by animals." (2)Not browsed by cattle." and therefore suitable for use as hedges to keep cattle from edible crops, they also cite it as a "danger to livestock" because it MIGHT be consumed by such livestock in times of "drought". As we all know "drought dread" is rampant among the residents of Hawaii (or perhaps just in their mental institutions and legislative buildings). In fact the "poisonous" nature of "physic nut" has only ever been known to be fatal (as far as I can find, at least) in cases where it was force fed to calves, or when eaten in large doses by unsupervised young children. It is called the "physic nut" because it is actually considered medicinal, widely used as an "emetic". An emetic causes vomiting, so the likelihood of children being able to swallow enough to be fatal before vomiting them up is nearly zero. So, if we subtract the scoring for "weediness", accept that it being "unpalatable to grazing animals" is a benefit not a hazard, and discount that seed can "easily" be spread by humans (they suggest that it can be spread by being embedded in mud on vehicles that are used in the cultivation process), the overall "noxious" score drops below the threshold of an undesirable species.

The essential difference between a cash crop and a weed is whether you can make a profit growing it. It is considered a “weed” if it doesn’t qualify to be in flower shows or sold at farmers markets. I looked at the details, and the details behind the details, and ultimately “weed” is a matter of opinion. Now that it has a USEFUL purpose, it can’t be considered a “weed”. India may have, at one time classified some species of jatropha as a weed, but it wasn’t j. curcas.

Oh, and just as a "by the way", apparently there is a new "politically correct" spelling for Hawaii that includes an apostrophe, thusly, Hawai'i. Just in case you needed to know, or needed an excuse to buy a newer world atlas.

And one final digression for your amusement, Memorial Day in the USA is looming, but other countries needed a spring holiday too, so that in Canada and Britain they celebrate what was originally a date to commemorate Queen Victoria's birthday. My father taught me a rhyme he learned as a child that went something like: The 24th of May is the Queen's birthday. If we don't get a holiday, we all run away. Well, somewhere I recently learned that May 24th is also the date that marks the death of Nicolaus Copernicus, the astronomer who first proposed the heliocentric view of the motion of the planets that got Galileo into such trouble. Isn't it interesting that this is also the weekend that cars go around in circles at the Indianapolis Speedway? Well, it amuses me.


Stafford "Doc" Williamson

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