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Conference and world cafe probe the viability of biofuels as an energy solution

by admin November 23, 2010

Conference and world cafe probe the viability of biofuels as an energy solution

by admin November 23, 2010

Are biofuels the answer to all of our energy problems?

A group of people came together last Saturday at Loyola’s CJ building to discuss this question and the role of biofuels in today’s economy and society at a one-day conference entitled “Planting our fuel.” Biofuels are a range of fuels derived from biomass, a renewable energy source taken from organism like wood, waste and alcohol fuels. They are considered an alternative to fossil fuels.

The 30-something group was diverse, attracting students from Concordia and other schools, faculty members, government employees, members from Eco-Quartier and the general public. The first half of the day was devoted to brief lectures and a panel discussion, while the second half was a world café event, where groups discussed different points from the day’s talks.

The first speaker was Donald Smith, a professor at McGill University’s plant science department whose focus is on crop ecophysiology. He painted a bleak portrait of the current fossil fuel landscape in Canada. (“It’s a Saturday morning, I don’t want to depress you” he quipped.) While Canada has 0.5 per cent of the world’ population, it creates 2.4 per cent of the global CO2, said Smith. And global crude oil extraction has peaked, or will peak, within a few years. Canada, especially, he argued, will need to develop alternative sources of energies, like geothermal, wind and tidal power.

Bill Kovarik, the second speaker and a communications scholar and historian from Radfor University, Skyped in to recount the history of biofuels. The origins of its use goes back a while he explained; Kovarik pointed out that early cars ran on alcohol, until an oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859 in a bid to find better oil for lamps, leading to the creation of the oil industry. The benefits of using biofuels, he highlighted, are that they are a sustainable energy source and leave no net CO2 emissions.

The final panel was on the issues that could impact visions of the bioenergy future. Adrian Tsang, biology professor and director of the Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics at Concordia, emphasized the need for changes in politics and policy in order to pave the way to biofuels. “We are an energy exporter, so there is no push” to make the transition,” he explained in reference to Canadia’s slow transition to biofuels.

Panelist Terry McIntyre, who represented Environment Canada, said his main concern was that there are too many “old farts” and not enough young people engaged enough in the biofuels discusssion. Blaine Kennedy, an economist formerly at Sustainable Development Technology Canada, worried that overly simplistic analysis by businesspeople and journalists could negatively impact politicians and those drafting policy.

Organizer and journalism professor David Secko said the afternoon discussion was fruitful.

He said one issue that emerged from the event was how journalists create a “sense of awareness on these topics for people so that they can get involved in the debate.” Another question that came up was how to engage the oil industry in the debate, as well.

“But a key issue to emerge for me was the suggestion that next step is to address how we honestly communicate about what biofuels can offer society, and to find clarity on how biofuels will affect our land, our water and our environment,” said Secko.

Participants were asked to design and suggest topics for a followup event. The results will be posted on pep.concordia.ca.

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Are biofuels the answer to all of our energy problems?

A group of people came together last Saturday at Loyola’s CJ building to discuss this question and the role of biofuels in today’s economy and society at a one-day conference entitled “Planting our fuel.” Biofuels are a range of fuels derived from biomass, a renewable energy source taken from organism like wood, waste and alcohol fuels. They are considered an alternative to fossil fuels.

The 30-something group was diverse, attracting students from Concordia and other schools, faculty members, government employees, members from Eco-Quartier and the general public. The first half of the day was devoted to brief lectures and a panel discussion, while the second half was a world café event, where groups discussed different points from the day’s talks.

The first speaker was Donald Smith, a professor at McGill University’s plant science department whose focus is on crop ecophysiology. He painted a bleak portrait of the current fossil fuel landscape in Canada. (“It’s a Saturday morning, I don’t want to depress you” he quipped.) While Canada has 0.5 per cent of the world’ population, it creates 2.4 per cent of the global CO2, said Smith. And global crude oil extraction has peaked, or will peak, within a few years. Canada, especially, he argued, will need to develop alternative sources of energies, like geothermal, wind and tidal power.

Bill Kovarik, the second speaker and a communications scholar and historian from Radfor University, Skyped in to recount the history of biofuels. The origins of its use goes back a while he explained; Kovarik pointed out that early cars ran on alcohol, until an oil well was drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859 in a bid to find better oil for lamps, leading to the creation of the oil industry. The benefits of using biofuels, he highlighted, are that they are a sustainable energy source and leave no net CO2 emissions.

The final panel was on the issues that could impact visions of the bioenergy future. Adrian Tsang, biology professor and director of the Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics at Concordia, emphasized the need for changes in politics and policy in order to pave the way to biofuels. “We are an energy exporter, so there is no push” to make the transition,” he explained in reference to Canadia’s slow transition to biofuels.

Panelist Terry McIntyre, who represented Environment Canada, said his main concern was that there are too many “old farts” and not enough young people engaged enough in the biofuels discusssion. Blaine Kennedy, an economist formerly at Sustainable Development Technology Canada, worried that overly simplistic analysis by businesspeople and journalists could negatively impact politicians and those drafting policy.

Organizer and journalism professor David Secko said the afternoon discussion was fruitful.

He said one issue that emerged from the event was how journalists create a “sense of awareness on these topics for people so that they can get involved in the debate.” Another question that came up was how to engage the oil industry in the debate, as well.

“But a key issue to emerge for me was the suggestion that next step is to address how we honestly communicate about what biofuels can offer society, and to find clarity on how biofuels will affect our land, our water and our environment,” said Secko.

Participants were asked to design and suggest topics for a followup event. The results will be posted on pep.concordia.ca.

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