Posts from — July 2011

Wildfires, Brush, and Biofuel

With all the depressing news of raging wildfires and killer tornadoes in the Southwest USA, the threat of climate change is now real, but where are the solutions?  After all, this can only get worse.  The IPCC warns that, even if action is taken to reduce greenhouse gases right now, the enormous momentum of the Earth is almost certain to raise global temperatures another 2-3 degrees, which would be calamitous.

This means we need workable solutions that can be implemented at the grassroots. For instance, wildfires are propagated by dry brush  – but brush is cellulose and it can be converted into biofuels.  In an ideal solution, we would develop “brush sweepers” that operate like giant leaf sweeping machines, only designed to sweep up dry brush.  They would be driven by operators, and would be assisted by ground crews who break up large limbs and shrubs into smaller hunks able to be captured. The collected brush could then be dumped into nearby vats, where specially designed bacteria being developed now can convert this cellulose into ethanol and other biofuels.

It would also be good to bound homes, offices, and other valuable real estate within a ring of roads that separate the protected brush-free areas from the rough environment. The land within the roads would be protected by brush sweepers, while the land outside could be left free to allow wildfires to run their course. A distance of 100-200 yards between the road and any buildings would probably be enough to keep fires at bay.  The circle of roads would allow maintenance crews operating brush sweepers easier access, and they might prove a convenient asset to communities. 

This may not be feasible for various reasons, but it illustrates the potential for finding good solutions to tough environmental problems that are likely as climate change continues.  Neighborhoods in threatened areas could avoid the dangers of wildfire and simultaneously create a supply of biofuel. Given the horrible scenarios for extreme weather being flashed about today, we are going to need lots of creative solutions.

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July 13, 2011   No Comments