The Naturalist's Corner: Fuel for thought

Biofuels have been getting a lot of media and blogosphere attention lately, and with the price of gas at $3 per gallon and climbing that’s not likely to change. Whether you get your news from the Internet, the newspaper or television, it’s easy to see that we are at a critical juncture regarding the direction of fuel production and fuel consumption here and around the world. But what direction will we take and why?

There are lots of options out there — electric, hybrid, biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen. Will science steer us in the direction of a safe, efficient, clean energy source or, are there other forces at work?

Will those amber waves of grain wash away our fossil fuel addiction because ethanol is the best alternative fuel choice or because Senate Bill 987 would mandate the production of at least 15 billion gallons of ethanol per year by 2022?

What about biodiesel — the new rage — which was first produced in 1853? In fact, Rudolf Diesel’s engine demonstrated at the World Fair in Paris in 1898 was designed to run on peanut oil.

And what’s the cost of green fuel? Does it include the destruction of the rain forest in Indonesia for the production of palm oil used in biodiesel? Does it include the cost of the conventional energy required to grow and harvest enough corn to produce 15 billion gallons of ethanol per year?

Did you know you could make your own biodiesel? The Internet is full of recipes and instructions. It seems you can make your own biodiesel for about 60 cents per gallon.

It has been said that the ancient Chinese word for crisis is a combination of the words danger and opportunity. The economic, environmental and security dangers associated with a dependence on fossil fuel energy are becoming more and more apparent. Perhaps this fuel crisis will provide the opportunity for us as individuals to think about the merits of conservation and wise stewardship and for us as a nation to create a national energy policy dedicated to the production of clean, safe, efficient renewable energy.

For the next few weeks, the Naturalist’s Corner will be dedicated to discussing the issues surrounding alternative fuels — what’s out there, the pros and cons associated with the production of different types of fuels, and some of the market forces like Senate Bill 987.

I hope that readers of The Smoky Mountain News will join in the discussion through letters to the editor and guest columns. I am sure many of you have more knowledge, expertise and experience with the production of alternative fuels than I.

We will begin next week with a simple overview of some of the alternatives and technologies out there and some that could be just around the corner.

(Don Hendershot can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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