WE'RE VERY PLEASED to announce that Alternatives has become the media sponsor for Earth Day Canada’s Hometown Heroes. The annual award goes to an individual or group who has made an outstanding contribution to the environment by working within their community. It’s work that often goes unnoticed, so we are excited to be highlighting the accomplishments of these inspiring leaders. Who is your Hometown Hero? Nominations must be submitted before April 22, 2009. See earthday.ca/hometown.

In this issue of Alternatives, we tackle the slippery issue of biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, which has become the target of the environmental and social justice movements. As our authors advise, however, we shouldn’t throw out the jatropha, French-fry grease and pond scum with the maize. Corn is but one of numerous feedstocks that can be used to produce biofuel, and fermentation, the process used to make it, is but one of a handful of technologies available to us.

University of Waterloo’s Kyrke Gaudreau evaluates a range of feedstocks and a variety of processes by analyzing their effect on our ecosystem. “If we are to successfully shift from a petroleum-based energy system to a biological one,” he warns, “we need to look at the forest as well as the trees.”

Gaudreau finds fault with fermentation, a discovery that complements what Washington State University’s energy experts point out in “How Much Energy Does it Take to Produce a Litre of Biofuel?” Requiring almost as much energy to be grown, transported and processed as it generates, ethanol’s future looks dim.

Meanwhile, Lyle Estill, a former resident of Guelph, Ontario, and now the owner/operator of Piedmont Biofuels in North Carolina, says that biodiesel is a different story. Sounding like a character from the CBC’s Vinyl Cafe, Estill explains that he started his small-scale biodiesel plant because he didn’t know what else to do with the oil left over after he’d cooked his beloved deep-fried turkeys.

While Estill espouses the benefits of small-scale biodiesel, Mark Purdon and his colleagues at Resource Efficient Agricultural Production Canada (REAP-Canada) suggest that current government policies, which are designed to pick winners – corn ethanol in particular – are not doing renewable energy any favours. Enthusiastic about the prospects of producing biofuel from switchgrass, they advocate applying a complete lifecycle analysis to stack one biofuel against another.

Scale also comes up in Kenya. Benefitting from experiences in the biofuel-pioneering nations of Brazil and India, this African country is sizing up its options. “Those driving Kenya’s jatropha program see two ways forward,” writes Carol Hunsberger, “scaling up production on large plantations or scaling it down to the level of small farms.”

Completing the package, Alternatives includes an elegant essay on the “mundane” nature that most Canadians experience in their daily urban lives, as well as a pair of reviews that bring you some of the latest environmental books on offer.

Winter may have us in its hold, but with President Obama in the White House, an opposition party rising in Ottawa and a shift toward renewable energy, we hope that this issue of Alternatives will spark plenty of hot ideas about Biofuelling the Future.

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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