January 25, 2006
The Future is Crap?
In one of my classes, in lieu of a textbook, we have subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal, which I'm trying to make an effort to read. While reading through yesterday's Journal I came across this article which, if you can't read it, is about a little town in Texas called Hereford. Hereford's main industry is cattle farming. A necessary, yet largely unwanted byproduct of this industry is a large amount of waste from the cattle. The guy in the article estimates about 6300 tons of manure a day. I think you'll agree with me: That's a lot of shit. Obviously, getting rid of/using it is a huge priority because who wants that stuff just lying around? To make a long story short, a plant is being built to burn the manure (instead of natural gas) to produce ethanol from corn. As a side effect, the plant would also produce a residue that is rich in protein and can be fed to livestock. Since manure is much cheaper than natural gas, the plant will be much cheaper to run (though more expensive to build).
It could be that this is the future of energy production in the U.S. We've all heard the story: fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas and coal are getting more and more expensive and will run out eventually. This plant represents a completely renewable energy source since ethanol comes from corn, as well as being cheap. It may seem a bit strange to think of agriculture and the energy industry as symbionts, but that seems to be the case. Another advantage of this process is that all of the inputs, as far as I know, are produced in the United States. Obviously, I'm no expert in the process of producing ethanol, but it's my understanding that the natural gas is burnt to distill the ethanol from a ethanol/water mixture that is produced by various other methods. The point is, manure is far cheaper than natural gas and is renewable. If this new method catches on, the cost of ethanol would decrease, making it an even more financially attractive alternative to say, gasoline. Gasoline is not the only thing it could replace by any stretch of the imagination, but it is an important one. Of course, there are many things involved with a switch to ethanol, but that's not what I want to talk about. What I do want to talk about, is that if ethanol is the fuel of the future, and I think it very well could be, than this process of making ethanol cheaper (not to mention environmental benefits) could be a huge step toward making it a truly viable alternative to fossil fuels. And that, my friend, is something that this country, as well as the rest of the world, could benefit greatly from.