06 December 2008

Making New Cropland: Salt and Drought Tolerance for the New Age of Biomass

Halophytes grow as quickly as today's agricultural crops, but actually produce higher biomasses. Rozema and Flowers cite the example of Salicomia bigelovii, a species of halophyte that they believe could become an important oilseed crop. Yields of the species are 18 tons per hectare—fifteen times the yield of sunflowers. Such crops could not only be grown in brackish waters, they could also feed the world's growing population. _Source

Biological organisms have colonised most of the land surfaces of Earth, and significant parts of the oceans. Natural selection has accomplished all of that without the help of humans. Halophytic organisms naturally thrive in salty soil and brine. In the coming age of biomass, such organisms should provide for much greater biomass yield, without reducing food crops.
"I'm convinced that saltwater agriculture is going to open up a whole new expanse of land and water for crop production," Glenn said. "Maybe the world hasn't needed a 50 percent expansion in irrigated agricultural land because we've had enough food, but now that biofuels are in the mix, I think it's the way crop production should go."

The world's population has grown by five billion people since 1900 to an astounding 6.7 billion today. Despite the population explosion, food production — primarily animal feed and commodity cereals like wheat and rice — has been able to keep pace. But the food system has been severely stressed by a variety of factors, including the increasing use of arable land to grow energy crops to turn into biofuels.

Even if energy crops didn't cause all or even most of the precipitous rise in food prices in 2007, most social and environmental groups agree that the best location for bioenergy crops would be on currently unusable land. That would ensure that land used to grow food crops in poor countries wasn't converted to growing energy crops to power cars in developed nations. _Wired
Of course energy crops did not cause the temporary rise in food prices over the past year, just like energy crops did not cause the temporary rise in oil prices and other commodities prices. Only idiots, government bureaucrats, UN employees, or environmental organisations are likely to still push that line of argument.

Even so, the emergence of huge new crop growing regions is certainly a very big deal. New research and development in the genetic engineering of new crop species will allow an even greater expansion of useful croplands.

Beyond salt and drought tolerance, we will see new nitrogen-fixing species as well as nitrogen-fixing symbionts that can be grown alongside the actual cash crop. These new crops will not require the expensive fertilisers that are used for most crops. In addition, we will see more frost-tolerant species, much faster growing species, and crops with an enhanced ability to produce oils, sugars, or other desirable chemicals -- even pharmaceuticals.

The new age of biology and biomass should arrive within the next 2 decades. It will probably be 3 or 4 decades before the full impact of the biotech revolution hits the world. In the meantime, the world will need coal, oilsands, oil shale, heavy oils, natural gas, nuclear power, and every other means to produce energy it can find.

A lot of politicians, "environmentalists", and activists and bureaucrats of all types will try to choke off our energy supplies. Understand, their alarmism over climate "tipping points" is void of scientific support. It is the political power of life and death over the masses that they crave. The ability to re-make the world after their impoverished dreams and oppressive fantasies. It is up to the rest of us to be sure these Luddites do not succeed in bringing on a new dark ages.

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Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

Advances in chemistry biology and agriculture offer all sorts of opportunities for innovation. Currently there are so many chemicals which are generated from oil and are thus dependent on the fluctuating oil prices and the cost of transporting the oil. Developing methods of using formerly worthless land for the production of sources for these feedstock while generating biomass as a byproduct make undeniable sense. And with the current rapid expansion of knowledge within these fields the revolution in life based industries is only beginning. There is a lot of money to be made, energy to be saved and productivity to be achieved in the next years and decades.

Saturday, 06 December, 2008  
Blogger Snake Oil Baron said...

And the interesting thing with energy and chemical crops is that the whole public phobia about genetic engineering resonates a lot less with the ordinary people since it does not involve anything being eaten. There will still be people opposed to it but there is so much genetic manipulation outside of the food agriculture industry that arguments against it on principle are far weaker. Without the scaremongering, genetic innovations for industrial purposes of plants and microorganisms for industrial purposes might just progress a lot faster than that of the food agriculture industry.

Saturday, 06 December, 2008  

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