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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fuel from food? The feast is over

We have carried out an article against using food grains for biofuels. Now here is welcome news.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – In future years we may look back at the Great Mexican Tortilla Crisis of 2006 as the time when ethanol lost its vroom.

Right or wrong, that was when blame firmly settled on biofuels for the surge in food prices. The diversion of American corn from flour to fuel put the flat corn bread out of reach for Mexico's poorest.

Two years later, the search is on for ways to keep corn on the table rather than in the gas tank. Moving away from food crops, the biofuel of the future may come from the tall grass growing wild by the roadside, from grain stalks left behind by the harvest, and from garbage dumps and dinner table scraps.

Carlo Bakker's tiny biofuel operation, World Mobile Plants, avoids edibles. He says his mini-refinery, loaded into a 40-foot shipping container on a flatbed truck, roams South Africa making biodiesel fuel from used cooking oil, or from sunflower seeds or the jatropha shrub, which grows in poor soil with little water. He says he plans eventually to use organic household waste as well.

Bakker says one mobile unit can make 260,000 gallons per year, which he sells for the equivalent of US$3.79 per gallon, on a par with regular diesel prices.

"We don't compete with the food chain," Bakker said during a biofuels conference in Amsterdam. "We see opportunities not only to make money but to help people."

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