Significantly stupid climate change idea

Using mustard seed to power aeroplanes:

A Qantas plane powered partly by mustard seeds has become the world’s first biofuel flight between Australia and the United States, after landing in Melbourne on Tuesday.

The 15-hour flight used a blended fuel that was 10% derived from the brassica carinata, an industrial type of mustard seed that functions as a fallow crop – meaning it can be grown by farmers in between regular crop cycles.

The world-first used a Boeing Dreamliner 787-9 on a scheduled passenger service, QF96, and reduced carbon emissions by 7% compared with the airline’s usual flight over the same LA to Melbourne route. Compared pound for pound with jet fuel, carinata biofuel reduces emissions by 80% over the fuel’s life cycle.

Daniel Tan, an agriculture expert from the University of Sydney, said mustard seed could double as a valuable crop and a source of sustainable fuel for farmers.

“Almost within a day after harvesting, they can press the oil out in their own shed and use it straight into their tractors,” he said.

“Basically it’s good for growing, and also farmers can also use it. If they grow wheat every year it’s not good for the soil. They can grow mustard seed in between the wheat crops, every second or third year, press the oil and use it locally or export it for use in aviation fuel.

“A lot of the biodiesel now being processed is actually from waste oil from places like fish and chip shops. A lot of these oils can be processed, but the problem is that they can’t get consistent supply. The big problem with the biodisel industry in Australia is mainly the continuity of supply.”

OK. Mustard produces some 1 to 3 tonnes of seed per hectare (according to GOOG). This produces 400 litres of oil apparently, according to these peeps. A 747 uses 4 litres per second of fuel (obvs, an average).

Roughly speaking, we get a minute and a half of flight per hectare.

There are some 100,000 (a guess, but a reasonable one) flights a day. Of 90 minutes (another guess, but again a reasonable one) duration and not all are 747s but let’s just try to get a sense of scale here. So, we need 100,000 x 60 x 365 hectares of mustard to power ‘planes. 2.2 billion hectares of land.

This is more than current total cropped land.

Not a solution then.

Please do check my numbers. I can easily lose orders of magnitude……

35 thoughts on “Significantly stupid climate change idea”

  1. Makes sense. I used to manage an oil supply contract. During the product familiarisation phase, I learned that bio-fuels can replace fossil fuels.
    If you plant all Germany with rapeseed, you could supply the diesel used by Denmark.
    But in this case, why send it off the farm? Use it in the tractors and save the transport costs.

  2. I remember one of the old Bash Street Kids strips in the Beano saw Class IIB soup up teacher’s car for some reason. One of the modifications was a large vessel labelled “Mustard” connected to the engine via a pipe. Sounds like Danny & Co. were ahead of their time.

  3. When you consider that 95% of all CO2 is produced by the planet, and also that is only comprises 0.004% of the atmosphere; stunts like this can only be described as insanity.

  4. We are beyond salvation. Stupid doesn’t do it justice!

    And there are people out there that suck up this imbecilic pap.

    A far better way for all those who beleive that man is destroying the Earth is – no kids (shut down that anti-evolutionary lineage) and suicide (with the body donated to the local compost company).

    Your contribution, you know it makes sense!

  5. Bloke in North Dorset

    What’s the opportunity cost of all those wasted man hours and capital on this idiocy. Aren’t there any real problems like 3rd world poverty to fix?

  6. As a climate change idea stupid.
    But at least as a way to help farmers reduce their costs and long term productivity it sounds at least sensible (assuming they are putting it back into their tractors not planes). Though that said I’ve no idea what fallow crops are normally used for – are they better off just selling the mustard to make mustard.

  7. Of the 400l of oil produced, you’d have to take off all the diesel used to cultivate the hectare, drill the seed (also the diesel used by the farmer who grew the seed in the first place) possibly spray it with some chemical (which has to be manufactured), maybe put fertiliser on it (which is highly energy intensive in making), then harvest it, cart it to store, in a damp environment like the UK you might have to dry it as well, then ship it to the pressing plant.

    There might be a net amount of energy produced by all that, but it sure isn’t the headline figure of 400l/ha.

    And anyway, if mustard yields 1-3t/ha then the yield of oil isn’t a flat rate figure, its a range too.

  8. Fallow crops are grown between main crops. The fallow crop captures nutrients which would otherwise be leached out of bare soil by rainfall. When it’s time to sow the next main crop, the fallow crop is ploughed in, making the captured nutrients available to the main crop. Usually, a fallow crop is ploughed in before it’s ready to flower and set seed.

  9. You do seem to write off a lot of partial solutions as worthless because they don’t solve the whole problem. Why do that, when we know that all the interesting economics happens at the margin?

    The stuff is grown anyway to throw away ,and I guess there is no need to plough oil (consisting of abundant carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) back in for nutrient value. Alternatively the farmers can both save disposal costs and produce a product that someone is prepared to pay for. The sale price exceeding the processing costs makes it economically viable.

    So no one is going to be planting year round in an attempt to fuel aircraft, but it sounds like a nice sideline use of fallow crop. For some farms it’ll be the margin, won’t it.

    IIRC the last similar thing you wrote off as bad economics was chucking domestic waste in CHP plants in Sweden, on the grounds that householders still have to pay their bin collection fees so are somehow “subsidising” the CHP. As if there is no value provided to the householder in having his stinking bin full of rotting garbage removed!

    This kind of solution is elegant because it satisfies two demands at once.

  10. We’re all missing the point here. Come the New World Order when only the good are allowed to fly, for they are more important than us, then there will be more than enough land to grow the fuel needed. You’ll be able to look up in the sky and wave at George Monbiot, as he jets off to some third World destination to tell the natives how they should live. At least that’s how they see it.

  11. ‘between Australia and the United States, after landing in Melbourne’

    Where are the editors ?!?!

    So let’s cut down all the trees in Borneo and burn them, then we’ll plant mustard to reduce carbon dioxide. Wait . . . what?

    “they don’t solve the whole problem.”

    Mr Ecks can solve the whole problem by executing all the idiots pushing man made global warming BS.

  12. At my age, noxious wind production is becoming an increasing problem. Anyone who wants to collect it from me (without use of fossil fuels) to power engines etc is welcome. I want to do my bit for the planet.

  13. Ian Reid wins the thread. Within the New Pyongyang these people are intending on constructing across the globe, you will need a permit to go to the next village while the nomenklatura like Murphy, Toynbee, Monbiot et al fly around indulging their own sense of self-importance…

  14. BiG, solutions to what ? I am not clear about what problem we are trying to solve here. Growing mustard might improve the finances of farmers but it only reduces emissions on that dubious basis used to justify converting coal furnaces to burn wood chips. And it will surely have externalities in terms of engine life and other unwanted emissions that the Guardianistas are not yet worried about. It is a good Theresa May type of policy. Bossy, pointless and stupid.

  15. “The stuff is grown anyway to throw away ,and I guess there is no need to plough oil (consisting of abundant carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) back in for nutrient value. Alternatively the farmers can both save disposal costs and produce a product that someone is prepared to pay for. The sale price exceeding the processing costs makes it economically viable.”

    The whole point of fallow crops is that they are returned to the soil in order to increase fertility for the next crop (plus provide a green cover to prevent soil erosion etc by heavy rain in winter). If you start taking the seed away as a crop, then you are removing fertility from the soil, which will need to be replaced somehow, most likely by artificial fertilisers. There is no free lunch here – what grows out of the ground and is not returned to the ground reduces soil fertility.

    Plus if a fallow crop is to be seen as a crop to be harvested, then the management is entirely different. Establishing a fallow crop that will be ploughed in once the fallow period is over merely requires any green crop to be established – spare seed from the other crops grown on the farm can be used, or cheap varieties of non seed bearing plants. And the germination of the seed is not crucial, if the conditions are not brilliant for germination and pests/diseases kill some of it and its a very patchy crop no one is going to worry too much, its all getting ploughed in anyway.

    However once you start growing a specific variety of plant, and aim to harvest the seed of that plant, the whole process gets more complicated, and expensive. Firstly you have to source specific seed, which someone has to grow, which is expensive, and you will have to pay plant royalties to whoever owns the breeding rights to that seed. This means the crop has far higher levels of sunk costs before you even put it in the ground. So getting the right conditions for planting, and not allowing pests and diseases to destroy the crop is suddenly a lot more important, which again adds to costs. And because you’re removing the seed you will have to fertilise the ground more, maybe not for the cover crop itself, but certainly for the crop to come after.

    So you’ve gone from chucking a bit of random seed onto the ground, hoping it grows, not worrying if it doesn’t, and ploughing the residue back into the soil, to growing a full blown specialist crop where you have to get back all the sunk costs from the amount of seed you harvest.

    The energy input for the former is very low (consisting of mainly spreading the seed, and maybe harrowing it in), while the latter is considerably higher, having the energy costs of specialist seed, possibly chemicals to protect the crop from pests/diseases, fertiliser to replace the lost fertility, and harvesting, plus post harvest transport and processing of the seed produced.

    I’d be prepared to bet the net carbon saving is so small as to be pointless.

  16. Once apon a time you could write about sunbeams and cucumbers and people realised it was a joke. Nowadays, not so much.

  17. Somebody really needs to beat the first law of thermodynamics into these people. You can call it Air Quinoa all you wish, but exchanging one form of energy for another is not a fucking miracle. And friction, whatever its form, usually robs you of any equivalence you might believe you’re getting.

    It’s these sort of twats who will end up crying loudest when their adopted minority group of the week can’t afford to fly any more because of the cost of running planes on virtue and unicorn tears

    Oh, and Ecks for President

  18. do you suppose the called up UT or GE or RR and asked “hey, uhm, 10pct biodiesel, does that voilate the terms of the engine warranty?

    do you suppose they asked the passengers “how do you feel about being part of an experiment flying across the Pacific on 10pct blended biofuel instead of standard Jet-A or Jet-B. How do you feel about not being afforded an informed choice of declining to participate in the experiment?

  19. Yes, you can run an engine even diluting its fuel supply 10% with stuff that doesn’t work as well. But you would only do so if “greenhouse gases” (or Iowa farmers who vote) were your only criterion.

  20. @Jim,

    I already covered that. You can return every part of the crop to the ground except the oil – every atom of which comes from the atmosphere.

    I’ve no doubt the carbon savings are trivial, but so what? If it is cost effective for the farmer they will do it. Obviously Qantas filling their tanks with it is a publicity stunt, but again, so what?

  21. “You can return every part of the crop to the ground except the oil – every atom of which comes from the atmosphere”

    So you’re adding into the carbon cost of producing this oil the cost of shipping the residue of the seed after crushing for oil back to the the individual farms it was produced on, and then spreading it back onto the soil? Because not all the seed is oil, maybe 30-40% is. The rest is vegetable matter, which if not returned to the soil results in a net loss of nutrients for the growing of the crop.

    Thats going to be good – there might be one crushing plant in any given country, they’ve got to know exactly which farm sent them how much seed, and then send exactly the right amount of post crushing residue back to each of them? Thereby doubling the transport carbon footprint?

    “I’ve no doubt the carbon savings are trivial, but so what? If it is cost effective for the farmer they will do it. ”

    It won’t be cost effective to do it, unless some idiot is sticking the resultant oil into planes in a mad attempt to be ‘reduce carbon emissions’. The whole point of all the entire process is to reduce the carbon emissions of the planes, not to create a market for farmers in a product that has more CO2 emissions than the same amount of oil. We could probably make aviation fuel from old newspapers if we expended enough energy to make it work, would the fact there’s now a wonderful market for old newspapers make the idea sensible?

    Of course not. If it doesn’t save CO2, then there’s no point doing it, profits or not.

  22. I’ve seen mustard grown around here after the main crop. It gets ploughed back in but I thought part of its benefit is that it’s leguminous so it captures nitrogen into a plant-usable form.

    As for the oil. I would assume it has to be processed to be suitable even as an additive to Jet-A1. It’s vaguely OK on its own as a substitute for diesel, but jet kerosene is lighter than that – lower viscosity, freezing point, etc.

  23. Of course you have to factor all the costs in! But you seem reluctant to factor any of the benefits, namely energy that’s clearly cheap enough to compete with tax-free diesel.

  24. I didn’t see any “clearly” in the excerpt from that article, just a 7% drop in direct emissions without mentioning weather conditions (eg wind direction has a massive impact on fuel consumption). And comparing emissions with jet fuel pound for pound is just highlighting that diesel is heavier than Jet-A.

    (I don’t click on grauniad links, and it would be pointless anyway as the article is going to be about as balanced as a neutron star on a see-saw.)

  25. That’s a whole load of Schopenhauer’s 17th stratagem, innit.

    If farmers are voluntarily doing this you can be damnned sure that it is cost effective. Also cost effective publicity for Qantas to do this as a one-off.

  26. “Of course you have to factor all the costs in! But you seem reluctant to factor any of the benefits, namely energy that’s clearly cheap enough to compete with tax-free diesel.”

    Who said anything about it being competitive with diesel fuel on price alone? There is nothing in the article that mentions its cheaper, or even comparable in cost.

    “If farmers are voluntarily doing this you can be damnned sure that it is cost effective. Also cost effective publicity for Qantas to do this as a one-off.”

    I think you’ll find that farmers aren’t doing it, thats why the article mentions continuity of supply problems.

    I have no idea where this mustard seed idea has come from, farmers the world over already grow huge amounts of oilseed rape, which produces more oil than mustard, and is widely traded and available for crushing for biodiesel. If it was cheaper to buy OSR at world prices, crush it for biodiesel and stick it in jet engines, then there’s plenty of opportunity to do so, yet no-one’s doing it. So by definition it must be far more expensive to produce than fossil jet fuels. A specialist crop like mustard will be more expensive than OSR – OSR yields are 2-4 tonnes/ha vs the 1-3 quoted here for mustard.

    Its pure manufactured PR bollocks from Qantas. There’s not an ounce of genuine market forces involved.

  27. Because mustard is a fucking fallow crop and oilseed isn’t? Meaning you get something out of your mandatory off season rather than nothing? It doesn’t even have to cost-cover (depending on how you account for costs). For exactly the same reason I let my charges spend all the “billable” time they want when there is a shortage of work. It makes no difference to the bottom line if time is charged to a Project or “thumb-twiddling”.. What makes the difference to the bottom line is (in my case), that better quality brings in more repeat business, and in the farmer’s case that something is brought in (be it one marginal tractorfull of diesel over labour costs), rather than nothing. It’s called making something out of sunk costs. Not that sclerotic bean-counter-driven multinationals would recognise it.

  28. So the anlaysis has to include the fact that the soil nutrients are not getting replenished to the sme level if the oil is harvested and therefore more fertiliser has to be used? Surely that would obviate any gains from selling a bit of junk diesel.

  29. “Because mustard is a fucking fallow crop and oilseed isn’t?”

    Have you read anything I’ve posted? Growing mustard (or any crop) as a fallow crop is not the same process as growing it in order to harvest the seed.

    The season has nothing to do with the costs of growing the crop. Growing a crop, regardless of when in the season, has lots of variable costs attached to it. And those costs have to be recouped from the seed harvested. And in order to do that you have to do lots of things to the crop (prepare seedbeds, buy special seed, fertilise it, treat it for pests/diseases) that you would not do to a fallow crop.

    It is NOT a case of doing exactly the same as you would have for a fallow crop but with the added bonus of some ‘free’ seed at the end of it. Not least because harvesting the crop in itself has a cost, which if the crop is very thin isn’t worth doing.

    Seeing as I’ve been farming all my life I do know a thing or two about growing crops. Whats your experience of farming?

  30. Incidentally, you do realise that fallow crops are grown at a time of year when an actual cash crop (ie one you harvest) is not possible due to the seasons/weather conditions? Fallow crops are grown in the period between other crops when you can get green matter to grow, but there’s not enough time/sunshine/heat to get a crop to harvest. After all if you could plant mustard and get it to ripen to harvest between other crops, why isn’t the farmer growing another proper crop in that time window anyway?

    Answer – because he can’t, its autumn/winter time, when crops won’t ripen properly. They germinate, and grow plenty of green matter, but the cold of winter either kills them off, or prevents proper seed pods forming, and there isn’t the heat to ripen the crop to maturity. Which doesn’t matter for a fallow crop, its all just green matter destined to be ploughed into the ground to add fertility.

    So a farmer will plant a cover crop in a field that has been harvested in late summer, but is not being planted again until the spring. The mild autumn period will allow the cover crop to germinate and grow, but winter will stop it from ever being able to be harvested.

    So there isn’t a free ride to be had turning a fallow cover crop into a harvested crop. It can’t be done, certainly not in the northern hemisphere arable growing areas.

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