[permaculture] David Blume and "Alcohol Can Be A Gas"

Leo Brodie leobro at comcast.net
Fri Dec 11 14:03:55 EST 2009

Thomas, Thanks for reading and commenting thoughtfully on the Blume book. I agree with your conclusions, both pro and con. 

Blume does make a persuasive case by using permaculture ideas. But for me, there's a "catch" that he doesn't address. It is that the equipment for fermentation and distillation, which costs in the thousands of dollars even on a small scale, has to be designed specifically for the inputs being used. Your equipment could process sugar beets, or process laurel hedge clippings, but not both. So once you choose your input, then you are committed to considerable monocrop production. Suddenly you're dealing with scalability issues that we're trying to minimize with polycultures. That may explain why we don't see successful, small-scale alcohol production operations.

As a postscript: Since I posed this question originally, I've learned more about biochar, which seems to be a much more promising technology. The lifecycle of biochar produces heat energy, sequesters carbon, and amends the soil. 

Biochar needs a persuasive evangelist like David Blume.

Message: 6
Date: Fri, 11 Dec 2009 14:34:43 +0100
From: "Thomas Paul Jahn" 
Subject: Re: [permaculture] David Blume and "Alcohol Can Be A    Gas"
Message-ID: <4B2258830200006600018A2C at gwia2.kvl.dk>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=Windows-1255

finally I got the book from David Blume and watched the DVD. I must admit that David has a very good story here. And from all he says about alcohol as a solar liquid energy and the surplus of assimilates contributing to carbon sequestration when growing crops for alcohol production makes great sense to me.
Also with regard to the ecological economics he has a very strong case, because he tells from his own experience (at low scale) and a fair lot about history, were alcohol in fact did serve as fuel such as USA, Brazil, Germany prior 1945 etc. And he makes the point that we definitely have to use less fuel in the future!!! That is good. And here I come back to my former concern that our cars, which David says could simply keep running on ethanol, are far too heavy and do use too much energy. Anyway?.

The other very useful thing about David's book is, that he makes a clear distinction between sugar and starch on the on hand and cellulose on the other. That is the key point for me. As long as we use sugar and starch (or: water soluble carbohydrates) for alcohol production, we really do not interfere with ecology but rather promote growth (as long as we do it in a permaculture type system and at low scale). The nice thing is (and I don't mean to be ironic), that by using sugar and starch, alcohol production will simply compete with production for our food. And doing this at small scale, say directly at the permaculture farm, it is up to everybody's personal ecological economy and ability to practice permaculture and consequently achieve proper harvests to either eat or heat or drive. There will be no need for speculations, calculations and legislations. Rather everybody has the freedom to judge himself what is feasible and is responsible.

Finally, however, when David goes further to suggest, that we could use e.g. lawn clippings and other cellulose residues for alcohol production to boost the production, I am very skeptical. And in fact, here David is entering foreign territory. That is, that this has not been tested in a permaculture way of production. And in fact, it does not quite fit, because we need our residues for green manure. This is the lesson from amany permaculturists.
Whenever David in his book advocates large-scale cooperation type of productions, I become rather cautious.

Otherwise the book is great!

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