by SUSAN ALLEN
Okay, I will admit it! I drive a gas guzzling pick-up whose miles per gallon sound more like the Belmont odds when Smarty Jones ran. The fact that I haul horses somehow helps me to "validate" my fuel usage, yet when I stand at the pump watching the gallons tick off like some slot machine gone mad, I just know there must be a better way to power our nation.
Welcome to my fantasy world where a city built on the hill, radiates without smog. Below, like a veritable quilt lies fertile farmland forever protected from the suburban sprawl now legislated to less valuable land in the foothills. In place of strip malls, agriculturalists grow corn, soy and canola to be converted into bio diesel fuel for trucks, large equipment, school buses even personal vehicles like my dear old pick-up. In this clean "green" world, manure produced from dairies, equestrian facilities and farms would be transported to regional methane digester plants similar to those being used in Europe today. In this scenario, the manure once considered merely a waste and an environmental liability is converted to valuable source of clean, affordable energy for homes and businesses with any excess distributed to hydrogen fueling stations. In this sustainable society agriculture holds the potential of transforming our world from petroleum based economy back to a bio-based one.
Naysayers, like my father (owner of a Northwest petroleum distributorship), argue that consumers simply will not pay the higher costs of alternative fuels and cite that most of the nine million tons of hydrogen we currently produce comes from fossil fuels. In his eyes we are many years from developing inexpensive sources for hydrogen or converting vehicles to bio diesel. Call me naive, but I am still a sucker for the old supply and demand business principle and believe that if we consumers were actually given the choice, the majority of us wouldnít mind paying a bit more initially, knowing the additional cost per gallon could free us from Middle East manipulation at American pumps, not to mention the environmental benefits we would reap like clean air.
Apparently I am not alone in this dream because the Governor of California recently arrived at a press conference in a hydrogen-fueled Toyota to promote his vision of building as many as 200 hydrogen-fueling stations along California freeways. Arnold would like to see all gas powered cars outlawed in just 10 to 15 years. Given Arnold Schwarzenegger's media magnetism, California is quickly becoming the launching pad for the clean-transportation revolution. UC Davis is considered to be the pre-eminent school for hydrogen -fuel research. It will be interesting to see if the "Terminator" exterminates the petroleum industry and helps turn my futuristic dream of a bio-based economy into reality... in my lifetime.
Susan Allen provides her Food Forethought column as a means to support the agricultural industry.