Bio-fuels are necessary if humans are to stop burning fossil fuels so what’s wrong?

Battery power is great for cars and taxis. Recently Tesla has shown you can make a viable electric lorry – claims the range isn’t far enough are absurd. Name one country when a lorry driver is allowed to drive for more than 4 hours without break – modern chargers can give you 4 hours of range in 15 to 30 minutes (a Tesla 3 or Y can have 180 miles in 15 minutes).

However, there are areas where fuels will be used, like rocketry. Now it is true that no one has yet made a rocket fly on biofuels, but that’s a different problem.

So what’s the problem? Well it’s simple, there is a finite area of land for growing crops, and none spare on land. This is the main reason palm oil from Indonesia is so foolish. If you have to cut down rainforest to grow palm oil, in many areas capturing the carbon lost from trees will take decades – in some places, for instance over peat, it can take more than a century.

In other words, if done wrong palm oil growing could end up with more carbon in the air. So what can we do?

There are several prospects:

  1. Green the desert: if we can bioengineer the desert, this will give huge amounts more land. Of course perhaps a better use of this former desert is to replant rainforest.
  2. Algae: algae grows in water. Importantly, they can live in seawater (fresh water is also in short supply around much of the planet). Given the speed that algae grows it could well be a better prospect.

Greening deserts, as well as stopping their spread is obviously important. However, deserts currently host interesting wildlife, so ancient deserts should remain desert. 

Algae grows in the top 60-90m of water, and it is relatively simple to encourage it to grow. As such we could create vast algae fields, however given they don’t need roots, they could be grown out at sea, which means that we needn’t use space close to the beach – an area that is highly biodiverse. Given that algae takes about four weeks to grow, and sea temperatures are stable year round, you’re likely to be able to get 12 or 13 harvests each year.

Combining this with fuel made from human rubbish (in the UK rubbish is thought to be capable of producing roughly one-third of necessary aviation fuel for the UK’s aviation industry) is likely to be able to green air travel in the near future. This is absolutely essential, as for the vast majority of wildlife and wilderness tourism is the way of making it work – of course we need to green the aviation industry, and people should be careful how much travelling they do. However if people are making sure that they benefit ecosystems abroad when they go there, then the emissions they generate to get there could be worth far more than they cost.

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