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What is an energy crop?

 
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Sorry to be duh, but what is an Energy crop?
 
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Rahul Swain wrote:Sorry to be duh, but what is an Energy crop?



"Energy crop" is usually used to mean a crop grown for fuel rather than food purposes. Some vegetable oils are turned into biodiesel, carbohydrates can be turned into ethanol etc... Others are just variants on growing stuff to burn.  I think this particular thread may be misplaced as it is talking about a crop for consumption.
 
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I read it as high calorie crop rather than crop planted for energy.

*Please note that this question was initially moved from a post having nothing to do with energy production, but everything to do with calories.
 
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It says "grow your own fuel" at the top of the "Energy Crop" forum page so I'm pretty sure it's for fuel (combustion).  Not a dumb question at all!
 
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Mike Jay wrote:It says "grow your own fuel" at the top of the "Energy Crop" forum page so I'm pretty sure it's for fuel (combustion).  Not a dumb question at all!



No, not a dumb question at all. In fact I think it is a sub-forum that hardly gets the attention it deserves. Properky done, it could really give the homesteader the means to save a lot of money, and be self-suffcient.

I know I have kicked around some ideas. I have a pellet stove for this house, but while I cannot make my own pellets, I can burn products inside it that are fairly consistant. For instance I mix my wood pellets with corn at a 2 to 1 ratio, and get incredible heat with a lot less expense, but if I produced my own corn, it would be even cheaper. (Burning more than 1/3 corn causes exessive temps in the stove, but 1/3 savings is not bad).

But I can also burn sunflower seeds in it; again, any consistently shaped product a pellet stove can burn.

 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

Mike Jay wrote:It says "grow your own fuel" at the top of the "Energy Crop" forum page so I'm pretty sure it's for fuel (combustion).  Not a dumb question at all!



No, not a dumb question at all. In fact I think it is a sub-forum that hardly gets the attention it deserves. Properky done, it could really give the homesteader the means to save a lot of money, and be self-suffcient.

I know I have kicked around some ideas. I have a pellet stove for this house, but while I cannot make my own pellets, I can burn products inside it that are fairly consistant. For instance I mix my wood pellets with corn at a 2 to 1 ratio, and get incredible heat with a lot less expense, but if I produced my own corn, it would be even cheaper. (Burning more than 1/3 corn causes exessive temps in the stove, but 1/3 savings is not bad).

But I can also burn sunflower seeds in it; again, any consistently shaped product a pellet stove can burn.



Burning food discomforts me. I appreciate that in some circumstances it is cheap to grow, but when land is diverted to fuel crops on any meaningful scale it ultimately inflates food prices which disproportionately affects the poor. Travis - you grow corn. Corn stalks and husks could be burned while still producing food. I'm not sure about  agricultural practices in your area, but around here corn is notorious for contributing to soil loss and erosion as well.

We are fortunate to have massive amounts of wood on our land to process for firewood each year - we have had substantial windblown trees each of the past 4 years - so haven't needed to bring anything in from offsite for firewood. That said, our water heating comes from gas and we don't have a viable alternative at present. If I were going to look for an energy crop in our circumstances I would probably be planting a few acres of willow to run on a short coppice rotation. Perennial, minimal (no?) inputs of fertilisers, potential to process with hand tools if needed (a bill hook only). We don't have a system to burn the material, but I'd probably look at making up bundles of faggots and establishing a batch rocket unit that can take entire faggots to minimise handling.
 
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I would like to see the end of corn for ethanol production globally. It pollutes terribly and doesn’t make sense really. I’ll try to describe it in this sort of flow chart. Farmer prepares land using tractor, which burns fuel, and steel that disturbs soil, which makes conditions ripe for erosion by wind then rain, then farmer uses tractor again, to seed the acres with patented gene corn, and uses the tractor again, to spread fertilizer which comes from petroleum (which required energy to make also), then uses tractor or hires a pilot and crop duster to spray corn (poison from petroleum, also needed energy to manufacture) during the growing season usually more than once. Combine comes, burning fuel, to harvest the corn, which is then transported on trucks burning fuel, to (usually) storage facilities. Corn is then moved again from storage facility to factory that makes ethanol, where the corn then needs to be milled, requiring energy, where then it is fermented. After fermentation, the mash must me heated, using fuel, to distill and extract the ethanol. I’m no expert on the subject, but I imagine I’ve left out another step or two where energy is required in that process. The energy used is greater than the energy potential extracted. I think the only reason this use of corn for biofuel is being done to prop up agribusiness and industry as the whole process really makes no sense to me.

Putting my moderator hat on now, I just wanted to describe the process, and not open this discussion into the ethics of biofuel production. That’s for the cider press.
 
Lauren Ritz
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This was initially moved from another thread, where energy crop was not used in this context. He was asking about energy crop used in the context of food production, and it got transferred to a forum having nothing to do with food production. So there's some initial confusion, although the question itself is legitimate in both senses.

https://permies.com/t/123301/Fartychokes-calories
 
Travis Johnson
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I do not have any moral issues with growing corn to produce a crop to heat a home. It does not matter if it is firewood, corn, wood pellets, or compost heat; it is all acreage diverted to providing heat, and in Maine, heat is VERY important. What is the point of having a fully belly and shivering to death from hypothermia? It all goes along with my philosophy of:

Do as much for yourself as you can!

That goes along with Permiculture as well because it is about self-sufficiency.

I have no problem with a landowner doing what they want with their land. I do not always agree with what some people do on here, but that is their choice. Everyone has x amount of acres, and 24 hours in a day, what they do with those two things is up to them.

Myself, I think corn has a lot going for it, and just has a bad reputation that is underdeserved. My forefathers thrived on corn, and being settlers in early Maine (1700's) they were te ultimate homesteaders. I think we can learn a lot from them. They did not grow corn because they were addicted to it, they grew it because of all it did for them. It could do the same for homesteaders today as it is just a plant; how it is gown is what makes it ethical or not.



 
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Michael Cox wrote:We are fortunate to have massive amounts of wood on our land to process for firewood each year - we have had substantial windblown trees each of the past 4 years - so haven't needed to bring anything in from offsite for firewood. That said, our water heating comes from gas and we don't have a viable alternative at present. If I were going to look for an energy crop in our circumstances I would probably be planting a few acres of willow to run on a short coppice rotation. Perennial, minimal (no?) inputs of fertilisers, potential to process with hand tools if needed (a bill hook only). We don't have a system to burn the material, but I'd probably look at making up bundles of faggots and establishing a batch rocket unit that can take entire faggots to minimise handling.




I have plenty of firewood myself, and do have a woodstove in the basement, but we also live in a Tiny House, so if we put a woodstove upstairs, it would drive us out in no time. I cannot have that, so a pellet stove really works well for us. We set it at setting that is appropriate for the amount of cold outside, and it self-feeds, and regulates itself well. It basically is a very consistent woodstove.

What I do not like is that I have to buy wood pellets for it.

I did find out through trial and error that this wood pellet stove thrives on burning whole corn, but only at a ratio of 2/3 wood pellets, to 1/3 corn. Even that saves me money because a 40 pound bag of wood pellets costs $6 and yet a 50 pound of whole corn is only $10.00. Because corn burns hotter, and is only a few dollars more, for an even bigger bag...it is economical for me to burn the corn/wood pellet mix.

But if I grew my own corn for it, it would be even cheaper. I ran the numbers and it would only take about an acre of corn to heat my house for the winter if I did 1/3 corn, and 3 acres if I did 100% corn. If I did that, I could heat my house for about $350 a year. But here our forest grows at 1 cord per acre, per year for sustainable harest so growing corn, or growing firewood, would be about the same in acreage amounts.

Sunflowers would be a little more in terms of acreage, but not a lot more. And honestly, sunflowers iterst me more. They grow well here, and I like the idea of a few acres of that beautiful crop growing, knowing it will heat my house all winter. For me, that has its appeal.



 
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Travis Johnson wrote:

What I do not like is that I have to buy wood pellets for it.




Have you looked into making wood pellets? I was just thinking, like possibly sawdust and some kind of binder, and then pushing this new gooey sawdust creation through a meat grinder for instance, with the large hole die on the end, and have pellets plop off the end which could then be dried on a window screen in the sun, resulting in a kind of pellet that will hold its shape and not fall apart during handling.
 
Travis Johnson
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James Freyr wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:

What I do not like is that I have to buy wood pellets for it.




Have you looked into making wood pellets? I was just thinking, like possibly sawdust and some kind of binder, and then pushing this new gooey sawdust creation through a meat grinder for instance, with the large hole die on the end, and have pellets plop off the end which could then be dried on a window screen in the sun, resulting in a kind of pellet that will hold its shape and not fall apart during handling.



I did, and it just did not work. It had t do with having a hammermill, and then a pellet maker working back to back, but the problem was the production. Even setting aside the equipment's high price, it only produced 600 pounds per hour. That means for both hammermill, and pellet making, it would take 20 hours to make the three tons I need to heat my house. That is a lot of diesel fuel running my tractor, and all that. I could produce cords and cords of firewood in 20 hours...

But this is where corn or sunflower seeds shine; they are already sized right, so no expensive equipment needed to make them into pellets. They must be dried, but the air can do that. In that case it is just the cost of raising and harvesting the crop. Fortunately, homemade shelling machines are pretty easy to build in a DIY setting, or adapt from other machines. And the time spent raising a few acres of corn or sunflowers would be minimal. While doing your garden, just swing over and do the corn or sunflower patch.
 
Michael Cox
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Travis Johnson wrote:I do not have any moral issues with growing corn to produce a crop to heat a home. It does not matter if it is firewood, corn, wood pellets, or compost heat; it is all acreage diverted to providing heat, and in Maine, heat is VERY important. What is the point of having a fully belly and shivering to death from hypothermia? It all goes along with my philosophy of:

Do as much for yourself as you can!

That goes along with Permiculture as well because it is about self-sufficiency.



I guess your situation is quite different from the majority of applications where food is diverted to fuel. My understanding is that the biofuel industry has been massively driven by subsidies, creating all sorts of perverse incentives for producers. This was the situation a decade ago when I looked into it properly, but may have changed now. At one point in the US corn-to-ethanol was being massively boosted by laws requiring a certain percentage of petrol sold at the pumps to be ethanol. The massive global increase in demand for the ethanol made food prices spike globally. Another example of top-down interventions having unintended consequences.
 
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Michael Cox wrote:

Travis Johnson wrote:I do not have any moral issues with growing corn to produce a crop to heat a home. It does not matter if it is firewood, corn, wood pellets, or compost heat; it is all acreage diverted to providing heat, and in Maine, heat is VERY important. What is the point of having a fully belly and shivering to death from hypothermia? It all goes along with my philosophy of:

Do as much for yourself as you can!

That goes along with Permiculture as well because it is about self-sufficiency.



I guess your situation is quite different from the majority of applications where food is diverted to fuel. My understanding is that the biofuel industry has been massively driven by subsidies, creating all sorts of perverse incentives for producers. This was the situation a decade ago when I looked into it properly, but may have changed now. At one point in the US corn-to-ethanol was being massively boosted by laws requiring a certain percentage of petrol sold at the pumps to be ethanol. The massive global increase in demand for the ethanol made food prices spike globally. Another example of top-down interventions having unintended consequences.




Well sort of...

Our opinions are not that far apart actually. It is not often I quote Fidel Castro, but he said it was stupid for American's to take good farmland just so they can drive their cars. And I agree with that statement for the most part.

But I do not really see the harm in a landowner diverting; say, 100 acres of forest growth to provide wood gasification to power their tractor every year. To me that is self-suffeciency. It is their land, and if they want to do that, it is their choice. There are some difficult numbers in that, because it really poses the question, what else can you do with 100 acres of land other then power a tractor? Personally I think the gasification of a tractor has really high marks for being a cool endevor, but is not very practical. I would rather just buy the little bit of fuel I need for my Kubota every year, and use the land for something else.

But I am all about food production. I know food will be in short supply in a few years, so I have slowly adapted my farm to that outcome. I have cleared over 100 acres of forest just so we can greatly expand our tillable fields here. It just makes sesne; we do not eat trees, and with the Forest product Industries demise, what that forest use to be worth is now stripped by how much property taxes i have to pay for the land. The math is pretty simple. Taxes here are $30 per acre, and my forest produces $70 worth of wood per year. That means every year, I make a dismal $40 per acre on forest land. Now what sort of food can I raise on an acre of land, and not exceed $40? Lamb easily does that, and it has very small profit margins. Grains and other crops would greatly exceed $40 per acre as well.

It is expensive to convert forest into field, but once it is done, the payback is incredibly quick. I rate the return on investment as being achieved in the first growing season of the new field.

I am not unique in this; many landowers are clearing land at an incredible rate around me. It just makes financial sense to do so.
 
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