by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Biofuel

Jan 11 2024

Food crops for biodiesel? Apparently so.

I’ve been appalled by the vast percentage of domestic corn production used to produce ethanol—nearly half.

But I had no idea food crops were also being grown to make diesel fuels—until I saw this tweet/post:

I went right to the source: Renewable Diesel Feedstock Trends over 2011-2022

The growth in renewable diesel production capacity in the U.S. was dramatic in recent years, with capacity in the last two years expanding by 1.8 billion gallons, or 225 percent (farmdoc dailyMarch 8, 2023). ..In a previous farmdoc daily article (May 1, 2023), we examined historical feedstock usage trends for the combined total of renewable diesel and biodiesel over 2011 through 2022.  Our most recent farmdoc daily article (December 11, 2023) article examined feedstock usage trends for biodiesel alone, and found that  soybean oil dominated as a feedstock for FAME [Fatty Acid Methyl Ester] production…(see the complete list of articles here).

Here’s what’s being used for biodiesel production.

I’m OK with animal fats for this purpose.  We aren’t raising animals specifically to produce biofuels.

But: Corn?  Soy?  Canola?

And don’t get me started on the implications of expanding palm oil production for this purpose, or what soybean production is doing to the Brazilian jungles.

This may be great news for Big Ag producers of these commodities, but could we please closely examine the implications of growing food for biofuels on food security, environmental degradation, water use, and climate change.

Note: The New York Times says our diets are to blame for ground water depletion--all those soybeans.  Another reason to question using soybeans to make fuel.  Biodiesel may be more energy efficient than ethanol, but growing crops for either depletes groundwater.

Nov 13 2014

White House delays even more food rules

This morning’s Politico Pro Morning Agriculture says that FDA menu labeling (see Monday’s Post) is not the only food rule being held up by the White House.

The issue: The White House is supposed to sign off or reply within 90 days, or formally request an extension.  That’s not happening with menu calorie labeling or four others:

  • The Common or Usual Name for Raw Meat and Poultry rule: this refers to what you can call meat and poultry with added water, salt or other ingredients.  The White House has been sitting on rule for review since April 30.   Chicken producers love it.  Some meat producers don’t.  Here’s the initial proposal.  It’s not clear whether or how it’s been altered.
  • Child Nutrition Program Integrity and Child and Adult Care Food Program proposals: these rules, also sent in April, deal with USDA’s implementation of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The integrity rule deals with mismanagement.  The other one requires USDA to update the meals to comply with dietary guidelines every 10 years.
  •  USDA’s catfish inspection rule: Sent to the White House on May 30, this would implement a section of the 2014 farm bill that puts USDA, not FDA, in charge of catfish inspections (see previous post on this).
  • EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014: This was sent August 22.  The White House has not extended the review period.  f the administration does take more time to officially complete its review, it could push the release of the rule governing how much ethanol needs to be mixed into gasoline for 2014 into 2015.

What’s going on?  Politics, of course.  But I can only speculate on what they might be.

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Apr 7 2011

Cassava for biofuels?

It’s bad enough that corn is grown for ethanol, but cassava?  Many populations depend on cassava for food.

According to today’s New York Times, cassava is the new “go to” crop to burn for fuel.  Doing this, of course, prices cassava beyond what people can afford:

It can be tricky predicting how new demand from the biofuel sector will affect the supply and price of food. Sometimes, as with corn or cassava, direct competition between purchasers drives up the prices of biofuel ingredients. In other instances, shortages and price inflation occur because farmers who formerly grew crops like vegetables for consumption plant different crops that can be used for fuel.

The Times graph of the increase in use of food for biofuel is sobering:

New York Times, April 7, 2011

The rise in food prices has stopped temporarily, but prices are still an astonishing 37% higher than a year ago, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization

None of this makes sense to me.  We need a sensible food policy and a sensible energy policy.

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Jul 21 2009

Use manure as a biofuel?

Here’s another USDA report well worth a look.  This one looks at the use of manure in the United States.  Interesting statistics: about 5% of cropland is fertilized with manure, and about half of that goes on cornfields.  So the obvious question seems to be that if there’s all that manure around, why not use it to produce biofuels?

Why does this seem like a bad idea to me?  It makes about as much sense to use manure as corn for biofuel.   Wouldn’t it be better to use all that CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) effluent to fertilize the other 95% of cropland?  Wouldn’t composting animal waste and using it on crops instead of chemical fertilizers be more sustainable and solve a lot of problems?  Or am I missing something here?