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Fuels from Agriculture in Communal Technology

Background

According to prof. Kees Daey Ouwens, chairman ad-interim of FACT Foundation, central considerations for the work of FACT are:

  • To alleviate poverty by helping rural people to generate local income, by improving access to social services and by providing securities of supply
  • To regain lands for agriculture that are depleted by extensive agriculture and hence are currently not in use
  • To outline a new concept of world energy supply by liquid biofuels
According to the Brundtland definition of sustainability, a truly sustainable development is one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In this respect it is only fair to develop alternatives for fossil energy sources, which are well known to be ending.

Plant oils are a very suitable alternative for fossil oil, because they are renewable, have next to zero CO2 emission and no sulphur dioxide emission. Furthermore they have a high energy density and good storage properties, so they can easily be transported. Last but not least, vegetable oils give rise to a decentral structure of energy generation, leading to less dependancy on single sources and sensitive logistics.

An interesting option is to use this Plant Power also for rural electrification. Electricity brings a lot of desired services to small communities, like lighting, radio-TV and refrigeration. With the use of small scale, plant powered generators this option is attractive, both in price and in ease of supply .

Daey Ouwens continues: "If you add to this the social cost of the current oil supply - think of environmental issues and military expenses - you can see that it is definitely rational to develop a domestic fuel supply from agriculture."

Very promising energy crops are Jatropha curcas and Pongamia pinnata. These inedible crops give oil-yielding seeds, and on the other hand their pioneering nature allows to use them as precursors for other crops in harsh conditions. For example, sensitive food crops can be cultivated in the shade that is provided by deep-rooted Jatropha and/or Pongamia trees.

An important aspect of the sustainability of this concept is the closed mineral balance: by giving the minerals from the harvest back to the soil, no nutrients are removed and no fertilizer has to be used.

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