Inside fuel plant helping push up food prices

Feed him or feed your Ford?

With a distinct smell of fermentation in the air, and large twisted tubes sending processed grain into big silos all over the plant, it could pass as an ordinary brewery. In fact, the Inbicon biomass refinery in Kalundborg, Denmark, produces fuel for cars instead of anything for human consumption.

Campaigners like Daryl Hannah called for years for more biofuel.  Now their wish has been granted, but the advocates may be regretting their posturing.

The Inbicon plant uses wheat straw to produce bioethanol which is a replacement for traditional gasoline, and lignin pellets which could replace coal.  The wheat straw used could have been in the food cycle, for animal feed.  The fact that it is in such high demand for fuel has a direct impact on the cost of a loaf of bread.

the International Food Policy Research Institute says in a report that biofuel expansions could push maize prices up over two-thirds by 2020 and increase oilseed costs by nearly half, with subsidies for the industry forming an implicit tax on the poor.

Joachim von Braun, lead author of the “World Food Situation” report and director general of the institute also said, “Surging demand for food, feed and fuel have recently led to drastic price increases … climate change will also have a negative impact on food production,”.

Growing financial investor interest in commodity markets as prices climb is fuelling price volatility, and world cereal and energy prices are increasingly closely linked.

With oil prices hovering around $90 a barrel, this is bad news.We are still working  through impacts from a tripling in wheat prices and near-doubling in rice prices since 2000, the report said. See also the article Biofuels vs Food by Bob Doppelt.

Turning wheat straw into energy is not rocket science, because the material can be burnt. But producing car fuel from straw is more complicated. It needs large storage space and risks rotting if improperly kept. Usually wheat straw is used as fuel for power plants, rather than cars.

Inbicon, a subsidiary of Denmark’s largest energy producer DONG Energy, worked out a cost-efficient way of turning wheat straw into energy after decades of reserch.

The Danish company treats the wheat straw with special enzymes, which break straw into its basic components.

DONG Energy has set a goal of 50 percent of its power fuel from green sources, such as biomass and wind power, by 2020.

“It is not easy to turn such a big company around, but it is necessary. The way we do it is through very rapidly going away from the usage of coal and turning to biomass,”  said DONG Energy CEO Anders Eldrup.

One Response

  1. I wish these well intentioned people would critically think and do real research before backing up bio-fuel. I’m glad more people are doing articles on this subject. Most people seem to not think about the long term implications of going from oil to bio-fuel.

    For some reason, people don’t even think about the farmland that is being used so we can have a “better” form of fuel and energy. All this farmland could be put to better use, instead of being used to fuel our vehicles.

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