In principle, I agree with the idea of not diverty food crops to produce fuel, precisely because many people are not getting food they need, but also because it is increasing the price of food stuffs.
On the other hand, I certainly support using biomass or agricultural waste for fuel or feedstock.
Also it certainly makes sense to use certain dryland crops for fuel rather than crops like corn which require significant irrigation.
And I certainly support the use of algae to make biofuel as Ivan S doing.
As I understand it, we are already capable of producing enough food to feed the entire world, with plenty of surplus. The problem is political, not agricultural.
The price issue makes sense, though.
I agree that the distribution of food to world's need is political/economic, but certainly cost plays a role. Governments must choose to support/subsidize the collection, transportation and distribution of food to other countries.
The cost within a country is certainly an issue, especially for basic food stuffs. I heard a radio program a few weeks ago talking about the rise in cereal prices because corn was being diverted to ethanol production. And it's complicated because from what I remember, the farmers aren't making money and the consumers are paying more - so I wonder what the heck is going on. Who's getting the money?! Cargill? Conagra? ADM?
Here is great essay on peak soil.
I had a 1982 VW Rabbit pick-up running on bio-diesel. When my local supplier switched to soybean oil, I gave it to a volunteer fireman in the Santa Cruz mountains. He is using WVO (waste vegetable oil) and wanted something with better fuel efficiency than his F150. The Rabbit gets 40+ per gallon.
Algae is an excellent source of oil for use as a bio fuel. Power plants can use algae to absorb the CO2 from their flue exhaust.
Perhaps the oil companies that have "gone green" like BP?
Well, there goes British wheat.
And there goes our corn
Now they want to do widespread planting of jatropha, but there haven't been any studies about possible problems of widespread planting of this tree/shrub. Like the planting of punk trees in the everglades that became a disaster, the introduction of Kudzu in Georgia, the list goes on and on. All well intentioned, of course. Some just became a nuisance, others choked out natural vegetation killing off natural species of insects and animals in the process.
Humans see a dollar to be made and off we go. It's to save the world, even better, we'll even subsidize the greedy to get richer and ask no questions until it's too late because a group of people have decided that there is nothing to argue about as far as global climate is concerned and in so doing are numbing the minds of people to the dangers of plunging head first without knowing all of the facts. [/rant]
Now, I know this is a controversial source, but in Al Gore's book An Inconvenient Truth, he says that they are figuring out how to use the plant stems and corn husks to make ethanol instead of the food itself. Makes sense, the part that we eat is not affected and corn husks that are usually thrown away get converted to cleaner-burning ethanol. Also, he even said that there was a Butterball meat factory that was taking excess animal fat and turning it into biodiesel. Hopefully if I find my copy of it I will quote exactly what he said.
Just my 2 cents.
You're probably referring to something like this.
Also, used vegetable oil is already being re-used to fuel cars. Several of my clients are in the biofuel business, so I have to read up on it a bit.
That is known as cellulosic ethynol. The problem is that industrial agriculture depletes the soil. Using every last vestige of organic material that could be returned to the soil will only hasten the depletion of nutrients from already depleted soil.
No matter how you look at it, bio-fuels are not the solution for cheap transportable energy.
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