World Bank: Scrap biofuel subsidies to curb food costs

The World Bank, WTO, and other agencies have wisely come out against biofuel subsidies.  Most of these subsidies go to corn-based biofuels, which drive up the cost of food worldwide and offer minimal environmental or energy policy advantages.

My comments:  Instead of subsidizing ineffective or counter-effective biofuels like corn, governments should boost R&D for next generation biofuels.  Create prizes or initiatives specifically focused on boosting net energy yield per hectare, and specifically encouraging biofuels that can thrive on salt or brackish water and which won’t compete with food crops.

(See my post on how biofuels that can reach yields of 5 watts / meter or more could replace all oil consumption while taking up only 0.6% of the Earth’s land.

(Reuters) – Governments should scrap policies to support biofuels because they are forcing up global food prices, according to a report by 10 international agencies including the World Bank and World Trade Organization.

via Scrap biofuel support to curb food costs: agencies | Reuters.

Anti-Ghrelin Vaccine to Fight Obesity

Ghrelin is a hormone that helps regulate body weight and metabolism.  Higher ghrelin levels lead us to expend less energy and to eat more in an attempt to conserve resources.   Now a group in Portugal has shown that it’s possible to immunize mice against ghrelin, using their own immune system to suppress levels of the hormone.  This is another avenue to reprogramming our metabolisms to avoid one of the largest health perils of our age: obesity.  (Not to mention the obvious cosmetic appeal.)

Compared with unvaccinated controls, vaccinated mice—both normal-weight and obese mice—developed increasing amounts of specific anti-ghrelin antibodies, increased their energy expenditure and decreased their food intake, the authors reported. Within 24 hours after the first vaccination injection, obese mice ate 82 percent of the amount that control mice ate, and after the final vaccination shot they ate only 50 percent of what unvaccinated mice ate, Monteiro said.

via Anti-obesity vaccine reduces food consumption in animals | Science Blog.

Farmers Were Genetic Breeders 10,000 Years Ago



From New Scientist:

“Chinese rice farmers 10,000 years ago were early pioneers of modern genetic breeding. Like modern breeders they seemed to realise that shorter plants would produce higher yields, and unwittingly selected for mutations in a gene that shrinks rice stems: the stalkier plants produce more grain without falling over.”


Farmers were genetic breeders 10,000 years ago – environment – 06 June 2011 – New Scientist.

Violence Among Primates (including Bonobos)

New Scientist reviews Among African Apes, a set of field diaries by Martha Robbins and Christophe Boesch that explode the myth of peace and tranquility among other primate species, including the much-revered bonobos.

One small sample:

We also meet Volker, an ambitious young bonobo the researchers have followed for most of his life. Volker has close relations with Amy, a female whose baby the researchers believe he fathered, but the attention he pays her is finally punished: he is savagely beaten by his former friends. The biologists observe Volker’s screaming face as he clings to a tree trunk, then never see him again.

Source:  New Scientist:  CultureLab: Going ape: Ultraviolence and our primate cousins.

Solar Cheaper than Coal in 3-5 Years? GE and First Solar Think So

The news is carrying two stories in the last two weeks pitching solar as potentially cheaper than current electrical rates in the next 3-5 years.

First, in an interview with Bloomberg, GE’s global research director Mark M. Little said that their thin film solar PV (now at 12.8% efficiency) could be cheaper than fossil fuel and nuclear electricity in 3-5 years.

Then, yesterday, First Solar said that they believed they’d be selling solar power to CA utilities at 10-12 cents per kilowatt hour in 2014.

Both of those are well ahead of the Moore’s-Law-like exponential price decrease of solar that I’ve blogged about previously.

Could they be for real?  Possibly.  If they can keep installation costs and operating costs low enough, solar cells that are in pre-production are already at the $1 / watt manufacturing price threshold that would allow cheaper-than-fossil-fuel solar energy.

When solar is truly cheaper than fossil-fuel derived electricity, we’ll hit a new tipping point in energy.  We’ll still need some coal, natural gas, or nuclear power for night time and cloudy days, but those power usage levels are lower than the peaks on sunny afternoons in summertime.  With cheap solar PV, most of the new capacity built will make more sense as solar than anything else.

And eventually, cheap solar electricity will allow us to capture CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into liquid fuels for storage and for transportation.  (More on that another day.)