Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A new approach to biofuels?

A tip o' the hat to Al Fin for writing about this very interesting report in the Los Angeles Times about the work and vision of Carl Hodges.

The Earth's ice sheets are melting fast. Scientists predict that rising seas could swallow some low-lying areas, displacing millions of people.

Hodges sees opportunity. Why not divert the flow inland to create wealth and jobs instead of catastrophe?

He wants to channel the ocean into man-made "rivers" to nourish commercial aquaculture operations, mangrove forests and crops that produce food and fuel. This greening of desert coastlines, he said, could add millions of acres of productive farmland and sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global warming. Hodges contends that it could also neutralize sea-level rise, in part by using exhausted freshwater aquifers as gigantic natural storage tanks for ocean water.

Analyzing recent projections of ice melt occurring in the Antarctic and Greenland, Hodges calculates that diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi Rivers inland would do the trick. He figures that would require 50 good-sized seawater farms that could be built within a decade if the world gets cracking.

. . .

Hodges has already built such a farm in Africa. Political upheaval there shut much of it down in 2003. That's why he's determined to construct a showcase project in North America to demonstrate what's possible.

All he needs now is $35 million. That's where salicornia comes in.

A so-called halophyte, or salt-loving plant, the briny succulent thrives in hellish heat and pitiful soil on little more than a regular dousing of ocean water. Several countries are experimenting with salicornia and other saltwater-tolerant species as sources of food. Known in some restaurants as sea asparagus, salicornia can be eaten fresh or steamed, squeezed into cooking oil or ground into high-protein meal.

... salicornia has another nifty quality: It can be converted into biofuel. And, unlike grain-based ethanol, it doesn't need rain or prime farmland, and it doesn't distort global food markets. NASA has estimated that halophytes planted over an area the size of the Sahara Desert could supply more than 90% of the world's energy needs.

Last year, Hodges formed a for-profit company called Global Seawater Inc. to produce salicornia biofuel in liquid and solid versions. He lugs samples of it around in a suitcase like some environmental traveling salesman.

The enterprise recently planted 1,000 acres of salicornia here in rural Sonora, where Hodges has been doing preparatory research for decades. That crop will provide seed for a major venture planned 50 miles north in the coastal city of Bahia de Kino. Global Seawater is attempting to lease or buy 12,000 acres there for what it envisions will be the world's largest seawater farm.

The plan is to cut an ocean canal into the desert to nourish commercial ponds of shrimp and fish. Instead of dumping the effluent back into the ocean, the company would channel it further inland to fertilize fields of salicornia for biofuel. The seawater's next stop would be man-made wetlands. These mangrove forests could be "sold" to polluters to meet emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

"Nothing is wasted," Hodges said.

This sounds really interesting, and really promising. Just think: absorbing all that extra sea-water, farming for fish products that'll provide low-cost protein, then using the waste and runoff to produce biofuels. Three problems addressed in a single project - not to mention alleviating unemployment in the areas where the farms are sited.

More power to you, Mr. Hodges, and good luck! I think Al Fin had the right idea when he concluded:

You have to admire folks who single-mindedly pursue solutions to important problems. Quite unlike the whiners who populate most university department faculties--especially the social sciences and liberal arts.



Justin Buist said...

I saw this story a couple of times today but didn't read it in full until I got here.

I'm kept thinking "Okay, sounds good, but where's the catch?" until I got this this:

Last year, Hodges formed a for-profit company called Global Seawater Inc. to produce salicornia biofuel in liquid and solid versions.

He wants to make money off this idea? Awesome! There's no catch! This is just straight up entrepreneurialism.

Friggen sweet. I hope he gets the 35 million he needs in funding to get started.

Steve said...

As long as I don't have to eat sea asparagus and flex fuel vehicles can use it without ANOTHER modification, I'm in.

Course, building the massive solar collectors in the desrt now starts to compete with this.....and the wind farms.

Are the deserts going to turn into the new battleground for use rights, ala cattle v. sheep?

Any one know the effect of pumping all that seawater into an "unnatural habitat"? Where are the envirowackos!!! Think of the Cactus' rights!!!!!

Ah, i feel better.


Crucis said...

What is he going to do when it's evident that Global Warming is a fraud and the sea level doesn't rise?

(Sorry to be speaking heresy, but I think his idea has a fatal flaw.)

Loren said...

The global warming conspiracy really means little to the ultimate success of his operation. While it'll make a nice marketing trumpet for a while, he'll still be making use of otherwise useless land, and profiting from it. The products he's growing will be competitive in the marketplace regardless, and people will buy them.

Jerry said...

While I am all for alternative fuels and conservation of our resources I'm not buying into the global warming hoax.

Great! a possible alternative fuel source that comes from the ocean.

Someone is going to complain that it will lower the sea level.

HollyB said...

I'm sending this one to an Eng. friend to get his feedback...I just may invest in this CO.