Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma

Melissa and I have begun reading Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. After I finished the second chapter, I had a few thoughts regarding the role of fertilizer in the production of corn and the role of corn in the production of fuel energy.

Pollan discusses the Haber-Bosch process that is used to convert nitrogen and hydrogen to ammonia. This is a high-energy process that requires fossil fuels to produce ammonia-based fertilizers. I am not sure what percentage of corn in the United States requires fertilizers, as farmers also grow corn by alternating fields with nitrogen-fixing crops, such as soybeans or alfalfa.

So, food for thought: So, what is the overall benefit of ethanol production when large amounts of fossil fuels are used to provide the necessary nitrogen for the plants?

I am very glad that what does not become food will become fuel. However, I think Pollan did a good job of highlighting the energy intensiveness of the production of corn.

Tags: Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, corn, ethanol


TerraPraeta said...

Hi Joe --

Yes, exactly. That's why this peak oil business is such a big deal -- because fossil fuels impact every thing we do.


Joe Erjavec said...

It is scary how much we depend on fossil fuels. How scary it remains will depend on how we innovate and on how we untangle ourselves from this dependency.

Navillus said...

I've been wanting to read this book myself, and I would if it weren't for the mountain of books already in line for the lofty designation of "Next".

The energy debate, like the religion debate is going to be one of the signiture discussons of the next decade.

A recent study once agian pointed the finger at fossil fuels as the leading cause of global warming.

Ethanol is not the answer, and it doesn't appear that hydrogen fuel cells are the answer either.

I think that in addition to focussing attention on alternative and renewable resources and fuels, we also need to look at the other end of the spectrum which is consumption.

In the U.S. where the rising oil and gasoline prices started to seriously impact the car manufacturers, a segment of the wealthy and wanna-be wealthies took up SUV's in earnest, as it was not a status symbol to drive a gas guzzler.

But it may require not only a redesign of our cities, but also a re-imagining of society - which is really why we can't decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

Unfortunately nothing changes the world like catastrophe, a few more Tsunamis and Katrinas, may actually resonate on some of the thick heads running around here.

Joe Erjavec said...

Good comments, Navillus.

I think the available amount of energy, or the perceived amount, will determine what changes we make in our vehicles and the redesign of cities.

One of my friends has mentioned Tesla Motors to me. They are working on designing electric roadsters.