Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back of envelope calculations on biofuels logistics

Guys- It costs a lot of money and energy to transport biofuels feedstocks to biorefineries. This limits production efficiency http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2007/03/logistics-problem-of-cellulosic-ethanol.html and it is also an opportunity for regulation. Given the often prohibitive cost of transporting biofuels feedstocks long distances, regulating the siting of biorefineries might be a way to regulate where biofuels crops are grown.

Regulating refinery location may be easier than regulating agricultural production locations. This semester I'm working on a project to examine whether regulating refinery location is one way to limit land conversion caused by biofuels. I'm a little dubious about how useful this can be. Still, I think the exercise will be interesting. How should we quantify the value lost of land converted to farm biofuels feedstocks? What criteria should we consider?

-subsistence potential/avoided urbanization
-water quality

1 comment:

Andrade Downs said...

Thanks for making this blog alive and for bringing this important point on what sort of criteria we shall consider in our research. Choose a criteria to measure value lost of land conversion is a tricky point, and we definitely need more thought on how we shall look into valuing this loss.
For sure that biodiversity must be one critera, water quality another, and land access to the local population (places where traditional populations and locals used to have open access either for their subsistence or seasonal jobs), rural urban migration, and spatial/socioeconomic/political changes, etc... how rural elites engaged in sugarcane trade are treating local peasants/ seasonal labour, that is another factor...
carbon can be an interesting criteria, but it is yet a very grey area..., because how can we say who really lost or gain in carbon trade by converting lands from rice to sugarcane/ethanol?

so my other question is how this lost value of land will be shared, who will really benefit from this lost value and who will not when we convert other feedstock/ forest lands to sugarcane?

Let's think about what critera we shall use as we move along with the research and case studies. In the Lower Sao Francisco I saw those land conversions and I have evidence of lost value of land and water access to the fishing population engaged in fishing and rice planting and lowering water quality to the whole population below those distillers since sugar-ethanol distillers were installed in the wetland region.
the farmers don't really loose much, and they do not live in the farms where they plant sugarcane. They lease lands from local small farmers, who then loose access to their subsistence agriculture. Biodiversity has been lost measured by the trees that have been cut even close to the river edge to plant sugarcane, and of course water quality and public health issues appear as fertilizers/pesticies are sprayed used to plant sugarcane. they still burn the cane, so air quality is another huge issue as well.

So it is a matter of looking at case by case. it is hard to generalize. In the western side of Sao paulo state, where the convertion from feedstock such as cattle grazing to sugarcane might have other effects. A student of mine is looking into how these changes to sugarcane -ethanol is transforming the landscape, and the impact of these transformations in lost value of land (with few interviews he first gathered over this wet summer here)... Definitely there is an increase cost of transportation, and road work with the arrival of distillers....