Planck Foundation



As for all other main facets of today's life and economy: we don't have any clue on the huge driving force of cheap abundant oil behind it, nor of the consequences if they driving forces gets slowed down due to gradual month after month rising energy prices. Energy = Food. We use energy to grow it (the current greenhouses are very energy intensive), we use energy to fertilize it (the current production of fertilizers is very energy intensive), we use energy to coil it (longer transition times increase the cooling costs each day), we use energy to transport it (vegetables from Kenya for Europe delivered by airfreight is only possible by cheap oil). A price rise in energy will give a quadric price rise in food. This is something only a few people realize. Food is not a luxurious surplus life demand, but just a daily need. To make the impact of higher energy prices more clear. Economies will decline, unemployment will rise to never seen levels and food prices will rise sharply quadric to the energy price rise. Sounds like a concept for some turbulence in the streets. Not in far away countries, but on your doorstep. Are their alternatives? Yes. Seriously de-energize the food chain should be something everybody working in the food chain should working on. There are three huge steps that could be made forward: 1) algae/bacteria based fertilizer production in the soil, 2) introduction of energy efficient bio-physical greenhouse technology, 3) massive introduction of air moisture harvesting condensation irrigation models and 4) increased localization of production and trade. First: Fertilizers should be replaced by Nitrogen from the air capturing bacteria and algae as soon as possible. Algae/bacteria based fertilizer production in the soil: Fertilizer takes 2% of the fossil energy consumption of the world (as in: 5% of the natural gas consumption) and these percentages rise each year a few points. Now the fertilizers manufacturing industry is concentrating in the 5 natural gas abundant nations of the world. We must prevent that the governments of these 5 nations will decide who will eat and who don't. Making fertilizer (see and can be done also with coal or oil, but due to the extra needed processing the outcome is 20% less per Joule energy than by use of natural gas. This is the reason the fertilizer industry is moving to the natural gas abundant nations rapidly. An new approach on would eliminate the energy consumption of the current fertilizer production. This huge energy consumption of current fertilizer production method is a direct threat to global food production (as it is unsustainable in design). Furthermore it is a possible threat to global peace (as fertilizer production is getting rapidly concentrated in just 5 NG surplus nations). We have designed a model where seed are coated with a bacteria solution that makes fertilizer superfluous. Relocate the N production into the soil around the plants. Production on location without any energy demand. The bacteria takes the Nitrogen out of the air and put in the soil around the plant (plants can't do this by themselves). This model delivers a huge energy conservation. In my opinion it should be part of the Global Redesign Initiative. The only danger is that they will be too active and poison the soil with Nitrogen. As you probably know: I'm not a fan of genetic manipulation (to be more clear: it think its the atom bomb of the 21st century). So scientists has three challenges: isolating this algae/bacteria, getting them produced in volume and make sure it only replicate in certain conditions. But the last facet is difficult as life always adjust to circumstance very easily and rapidly: therefore the last challenge is the toughest. Still: the biological N production on location is a good model and yes it needs lot of evaluation and some bordering before exploring it. The model is right and could serve mankind severely. We have asked for the endorsement of the model by the Club of Rome. Secondly: Introduction of energy efficient bio-physical greenhouse technology: Last year we have stopped temperately our investments in, with the plan to make it open source later-on. This agricultural model delivers a very viable bio-physics alternative for bio-chemics and bio-genetics. Bio-chemics pollutes both the food chain as local water resources and bio-genetics is about cocaine for stable evolutionary processes. Bio-Physics is about using technological driven/controlled physics to influence the growth process of plants (or fish: there bio physics is used already). Bio-Physics has no down sized like bio-chemics and bio-genetics has: Several agricultural universities could endorse this model as an unique USP (often in cooperation with poly tech universities). We're strongly in favor of bio-diversity and honouring evolutionary processes that have worked out in millions of years. We think bio-physics could save lots of energy and water can speed up grow processes significant and can be the technology to grow food in underground structures in and nearby the cities (delivering fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers and fish with also less transport energy use). We have asked for the endorsement of the Club of Rome of our bio-physical open source model. Third: Massive introduction of air moisture harvesting condensation irrigation models: Water is gone be the next problem for food production. The old concept of irrigation was surface water based, the actual main concept is a combination of surface water and well exploration. But those two models (surface water and well water) are limited in their renewable capacity. There's a unlimited renewable sweet water resource and it's called air moisture. This can be harvested during the night by cooling pipes more than the surrounding soil by pumping water though a closed circuit that is cooled down under the earth surface. If these pumps are powered by renewable energy the energy price doesn't influence the water price also not any more. Fourth: Increased localization of production and trade: Food suppliers are smart when the know the energy consumption of both growth, storage and transport. By this data they will manages these all 3 down. Ensuring their own economic future in terms of turnover and profitability. Energy is Food is a very valid statement.

Author: Gijs Graafland

Back to index page of Energy Politics

Download the full Energy Politics report in PDF

Planck Foundation