This is an interesting question, and I’ll be curious to hear how the rest of the GreenAnswers community weighs in.
On one hand, cars that run on trees and other biomass (using a wood gasifier) run on renewable energy that is indirectly “charged” by the Sun. Trees are also good for decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They are also a somewhat efficient source of energy, with only 1.5 times higher energy consumption over a gas vehicle.
On the other hand, if we converted a significant number of cars to run on trees, we would deplete the earth of trees much faster than we could regrow it. This would require us to sacrifice agricultural land for land to grow our energy sources, which would make worldwide hunger problems.
In all, I think cars that run on trees is a thought-provoking idea, and hopefully it will spur some more creative thought in the way of renewable energy sources. Although as is, most everything is better than relying on decomposed dinosaurs.
The proponents of the “cars run on trees” proposition put out information about how efficient the process is. They are using trees that have been devastated by beetles, so there are no extra trees killed, they are producing ethanol at a good market rate, $3.50 per gallon, and the byproduct is wood material that can be made into wood pellets for pellet stoves. The proposal is to grow this technology with lots of small ethanol plants, and use more and more ethanol instead of gasoline. The problem here is that growth is contingent on having enough tree resources, and there are not enough trees that need to be cut down to support a large scale growth model. If the solution looked like some ethanol production to offset gasoline used by hybrid cars, then it might be feasible, but trees are a limited resource that we are already fight to protect.
Great question. And yes, I too would be interesting in hearing other Green Answer responses to this.
I personally think that converting biomass to woodgas or methanol is one of the best long term options we have for running vehicles. True, irresponsible large scale conversion of forests to fuel, would be highly detrimental, but we are inevitably looking at a signficant reduction in vehicle use to begin with. In the short term, much of the biomass proposed for biomass to fuel projects comes from yes, bark beetle damaged trees, slash from logging operations, and biomass generated from forest fire fuel reduction operations. All of which is just currently burned in big bonfires.
Another benefit to small scale conversion of biomass to fuel is that it will necessarily be rural, which will bring jobs and resources back into rural communities.
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