Notes from US Biofuels Expert David Blume – Growing Your Own Fuel

Last week, I went to the most inspiring talk. None of this doom and gloom the world is ending stuff that you’d expect from any talk concerned with Peak Oil. Instead, David Blume described how we can take control of our fuel needs by growing it ourselves, or with the help of neighbours with Community Supported Ethanol.

David stresses that almost everything that can be made from oil can be made from plants. This stuff is pretty near and dear to the hearts and minds of the LovePlantLife team. We’ll be doing lots of follow-up on this one.

Notes on David’s talk on how Alcohol can be a gas, why biofuels don’t steal food from hungry mouths, how we can grow our own fuel and other additional benefits after the jump.

(Please note that I may have made errors in taking these notes. Not being of sound scientific mind there may be some things I may have got wrong ~ Anna)

Alcohol can be a gas! US Biofuels expert – David Blume
Friday 17th October – Wellington
Organised by Appropriate Technology for Living Association, Paul Bruce

Ethanol is liquid sunshine.

Gasoline didn’t take off in NZ until after WW2. Alcohol was the norm to run engines. Made from beets. Alcohol had been used for lighting before Rockefeller started using it in cars. From the late 1800s, every farm grew apples for apple whiskey that could be used for everything – as a solvent, heating, lighting, to fuel your car.

Any and all fuel injected cars (the predominant engine produced since 1980) can run on a 50% blend of alcohol and gas with no modification (and most newer cars will run on an 85 -100% alcohol with inexpensive modifications).

Alcohol and gas will mix perfectly in car engines. Brazil uses half and half. 85% of cars in Brazil now run on alcohol. Electric cars are not economic due to the amount of copper needed for the engines.

US has 70 million acres of corn = 5% of their farmland. Can provide 25% of the country’s fuel needs, which is abou8t the same as oil companies now provide.

– Corn provides 900 litres an acre
– Fodder beet provides 3700 litres an acre.
— half used to make table sugar, other half made into molasses to produce alcohol.
— can be stored in big heaps with straw over them.
– Sweet sorghum is higher than sugar beets. Can be an annual crop in cold climates. Was grown in the South Island at one time. Made into black strap molasses. Can be made into building products and has twice the feed value of corn for stock. Waxy oil can be used as a biodiesel alternative.

Food vs Fuel
Only 5 % of all US farmland is used for growing corn. Of US corn production – 1% fed to people, 5% high fructose corn sweetener, 3% modified fuel starch, 1% whiskey. 90% fed to animals including all exported corn.

Humans can get food starch out of corn. Cows can’t – they’re stomach pH is 2.0, about the same as distilled water. Cows were originally forest animals. 10 pounds of corn makes 1 pound of meat and 9 pounds of shit. To increase meat yield to 1.17 pounds, ferment the corn before feeding to the cow.

You don’t need to feed fish fishmeal, feed them corn.

In Sweden, condensers are put over bakers ovens to collect ethanol from baking bread – converted to use in vans.


NZ Raupo Typha spp. produces 30,000 litres per acre if used in constructed marshlands and grown in sewerage (a terrific answer to Taranki dairy effluent). The cellulose top can be used as fuel source to cook it up , the bottom part collected for biomass – what they do in Brazil with sugar cane. Shred it – boil it – add an enzyme – let it cool – add a second enzyme – cool – cook with yeast.

Laminaria is a long binding kelp. Norwegians make kelp whiskey. Currently being used off the coast of California. Produces 90,000 litres of ethanol per acre. Fertiliser made from the kelp produces 95% of what you need to grow anything else. The kelp takes the CO2 from the water which de-acidifies the ocean. Would be perfect to grow in the ‘dead zone’ of the Mississippi Basin. Added advantage of causing cold patches of water to dissipate hurricanes before hitting land.

Alcohol has 95% less carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons then other fuel.

Polyol ester lubricants – Ethanol substitutes can run 50,000 km a year on 1 change.

Polyethylene originally made from plants. It’s heavily uesd in consumer products esp plastic shopping bags. We can make just about everything we made in oil from plants.

Alcohol won’t start your car efficiently on a cold day – need cold starters in your car.

Biodiesal will cause the same amount of air pollution as diesal.

Community Supported Ethanol – Set up ethanol tanks on spare pieces of asphalt. Underground tanks are too expensive. Putting first one into Santa Cruz. Fonterra produces ethanol currently in NZ.

David Blume’s website
David Blume Video
Radio NZ interview with David Blume Oct 2008
Alcohol can be a gas at


9 Responses to “Notes from US Biofuels Expert David Blume – Growing Your Own Fuel”

  1. 1 Bob Smith
    October 29, 2008 at 6:34 am

    The problem with the David Blume snake oil is that he cannot point to one successful home-grown ethanol project in the U.S. That’s not to say his message is false it’s just to add dose of caution. If the production of ethanol were really that easy everyone would be doing it. They are not. Believe me it isn’t easy…on a sustainable basis in any significant quantify. I hate to say it because I’m an ethanol advocate but approach this enterprise with your eyes wide open. Otherwise you will squander a large chunk of hard earned money (transferring it from your pocket to David Blume’s) and a lot of sweat before you most likely call it quits.

  2. October 29, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    If ethanol is the holy grail of clean air and energy independence, why does it have to have government mandates and tax incentives to make it work? Repeal all the mandates and tariffs and let the market decide. Until then everything about ethanol is purely propaganda.

    Fuel ethanol is NOT easy to make, it cannot be made at home in a still. If you make any other form of ethanol, you are in the liquor business and you better have a permit from ATF.

    “Any and all fuel injected cars (the predominant engine produced since 1980) can run on a 50% blend of alcohol and gas with no modification …” If this were so, all of those cars would be warranted to run on E50. NO modern American car is warranted to run on anything above E10, except Flex-Fuel vehicles, and it is definitely not the “inexpensive modification” that is implied since you need additional sensors in your fuel delivery and exhaust system and entirely different software in your ECI unit that controls your fuel injection. It is becoming obvious that one of the reasons that a lot of modern American cars are taking more than a 10% hit on mileage running on E10 is because nobody knows what the fuel injection computers are doing in our cars when E10 is introduced. There are no statistically significant large scale independent studies done on the mileage effects of E10. Until that is done, there is no relevance to the argument that ethanol programs are helping save gasoline, in fact it may be increasing our gasoline usage.

    One fact that is always left out of ethanol discussions is the fact that there are a number of piston engine applications that should never use ethanol blended gasoline, included watercraft, airplanes, antique and classic cars and motorcycles and small engines, especially those used in emergency services of any kind. The new federal RFS mandate, EISA 2007, takes none of this into account and neither do the ethanol and oil companies. In their greedy haste they destroy property and create lawsuits … google it.

  3. 3 loveplantlife
    November 2, 2008 at 5:19 am

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your comment and throwing in some caution. I’m new to this whole biofuels thing – I’m very interested in the possibilities of meeting fuel needs in other ways. I too have a lot of questions about what was discussed. But, I believe that this is worthy of a lot more research and an attempt to understand.

    CSE is not for me – my interests lie primarily in food and plants. All I am hoping to do here is share information and potentially inspire someone else to take up the challenge. I see no reason why in a rural community with people who know their stuff, that this can’t be achieved.

    New Zealand needs to look at other ways of powering itself. A small country at the ‘bottom of the world’ needs to find smart ways of moving forward. The ability to grow raupo in sewerage and thus cleaning up dairy effluent and using these plants for fuel is a fantastic system that needs exploring.

    Thanks again,

  4. 4 loveplantlife
    November 2, 2008 at 6:06 am

    Dear Mr Stop Ethanol,

    Holy Grail is a little over the top…there is no one sanctified answer to everything other then the number 42.

    I can’t comment on the U.S. regulations etc because I’m not there. But cars have previously run off alcohol, still do in Brazil’s case and I’m darn sure will be able to again. What’s warranted and what is possible are usually two very different things. It’s the problem of trying to ‘regulate’ things. I can see the possibility that some vehicles won’t be able to run on ethanol…but i do not think this is universally true.

    I do agree that fuel isn’t easy to make. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be. BTW in New Zealand you are legally entitled to produce ethanol, no warrants, no licenses and many people do.


  5. November 10, 2008 at 8:01 pm


    “Holy Grail is a little over the top…”

    “I can’t comment on the U.S. regulations etc because I’m not there.”

    If you don’t live under our mandatory ethanol laws, then how do you know it isn’t over the top? You should listen to the testimony in our mandatory ethanol hearings. We have legislators who do believe that ethanol will save the planet, reduce global warming and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, so they pass mandatory laws that all of our gasoline must have ethanol in it, no matter what damage it does to engines that can’t run on ethanol blended gasoline, and no matter how much of our tax money they have to give to ethanol and oil corporations. Then to add insult to injury, they have absolutely no idea if it works, because there are no definitive studies on environmental effects and there has never been an independent, statistically significant study on how much ethanol is reducing the gas mileage of cars. It may actually be more than 10%, in which case we are now using more gasoline than before. Nobody really knows. Do you? Wouldn’t you be at least interested in knowing? No matter where you live in the world, our mandatory ethanol laws effect you.

  6. 7 Techboy
    November 19, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Just could not go past the message left by stopethanol above without a comment.

    I can’t rally understand how someone could be so vehemently opposed to the move towards ethanol if they had the facts in front of them. Instead of spouting meaningless dogma maybe you should use the resources around and become better informed.

    To address the fear that some how ethanol will damage your car I could point you to Sweden. E85 gas (thats 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, the same as Brazil) is used in at least 80,000 cars without problems. Sure it needs a modern car (aprox 1990-), but that car has only a few minor tweeks to do with fuel management and is functionally the same as the same model that runs on gasoline only. A modern EFI car with no mods will run on 50% ethanol…no problem. Now exactly what damage are you talking about stopethanol? Please be more specific…inquiring minds would like to know.

    As for gas mileage…yes ethanol will not get you as far on a tank. SO WHAT. That is only a problem if the cost per/mile is greater than gasoline…after you have factored in the increased engine life, the massive reductions in pollution and the satisfaction that your vehicle is running on a fuel grown and manufactured in your own country.

    Kiss good bye to foreign fuel…your wallet and your kids will thank you.

    PS: If it ruins cars why are these guys so interested?:

  7. November 21, 2008 at 5:21 pm

    Techboy –

    Where did I ever say “… that some how ethanol will damage your car …” I never said that and I never implied that, although it can damage cars made before about 1986 and that is why all of the states that have mandatory E10 laws exempt old cars, except Washington. What I clearly said was “… there are a number of piston engine applications that should never use ethanol blended gasoline, included watercraft, airplanes, antique and classic cars and motorcycles and small engines, especially those used in emergency services of any kind.” and all of that is true, that is why states that have mandatory ethanol laws provide exemptions.

    Actually your statements are over the top. Your statement about “That is only a problem if the cost per/mile is greater than gasoline …” has come true in the US, we have that problem big time now because ethanol if more expensive than gasoline and “…the massive reduction in pollution …”. Show me an independent scientific study that proves this statement.

    I am vehemently opposed to mandatory ethanol laws that take my tax money and give it to ethanol companies. You have not addressed the key issue. If ethanol is so good, why doesn’t it compete in free markets?

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