Gopher Plant Oil, Energy Poverty and Other Energy News

This installment of an ongoing energy news feature considers the potential of gopher plants to provide a source of oil and how rising energy costs will impose a kind of energy poverty on the poor.
By the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
November/December 1979

A Department of Energy report foretells energy poverty for the poor as a result of rising energy costs.
ILLUSTRATION: ZAKAZ/FOTOLIA


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The following energy news items were drawn from multiple sources. 


Gopher Plant Oil

Most vegetation uses the sun's rays to produce carbohydrates, but the gopher plant (Euphorbia laythris) produces hydrocarbons—specifically, a petroleum type of oil known as polyisoprene. An acre of the desert weed—which reaches its four-foot harvesting height in seven months—can produce 10 barrels of oil at a cost (for cultivation and refining) of $20 a barrel, which is now fully competitive with OPEC oil.

Energy Poverty

A DOE report notes that energy cost increases "will rob poor households of what few pleasures they have. While some wealthy individuals will continue to drive large cars and take sauna baths, more and more elderly poor will shiver in darkened dwellings."

Milkweed Latex

The latex that can be extracted from common milkweed is chemically the same as crude oil, except that the former contains no sulfur or other noxious compounds ... and when the plant's hydrocarbons are processed, they produce a higher-octane-rated gasoline than do petroleum products!

Solar Vs. Nuclear

When two Vermont power companies proposed to buy 1% each of the embattled Seabrook nuclear power plant stock for a total of $98 million, environmentalists calculated that for about the same price, 40,000 solar water heaters (which involve no fuel costs, decommissioning &, or waste storage) could be professionally constructed and installed at a cost of $2,500 each. The sun-powered heaters would produce just slightly less power than the Seabrook purchase and provide 3,000 to 4,000 installation jobs at plumber's wages.

Peanut Shell Power

Does Jimmy know that peanut hulls pressed into pellets are being tested by the Army's Construction Engineering Research Laboratory as an alternate fuel source? Dothan Oil Mill in Alabama—which produces peanut oil—already gets all of the steam needed to operate its plant from ground-up goober shells.

Fermentation Research

Hearty bacteria collected from hot springs in Yellowstone National Park by University of Georgia researchers could speed up the fermentation process for making alcohol fuel. The little fellows can also grow in the absence of oxygen, live at temperatures as high as 172°F, and ferment a number of sugars that yeast cannot act upon.

Nuclear Delusion

Alvin Weinberg, a physicist who served for more than two decades as director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said of the Three Mile Island debacle: "It's our responsibility to prove this [nuclear] technology can work. I don't think we can or should survive if we can't fix it."

Energy Policy Oversight

President Carter's Energy Mobilization Board would have the authority to designate energy "Priority" projects, a label which would exempt such undertakings from local, state, and federal laws that safeguard public health and the environment. The power of this board has been described as "the energy equivalent of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution."

Gasoline Storage Hazard

The National Safety Council warns that one gallon of gasoline packs the explosive wallop of 14 sticks of dynamite, and that there's just no safe way to store it in an apartment, house, or car trunk.

Wood Heater Subsidy

The North Georgia Electric Membership Corporation has offered interest-free loans to its electric heating customers which would cover the purchase and installation costs of airtight wood heaters, with repayment to be made on monthly utility bills.

Surplus Power Contract

After an arduous battle, Martin Greenwald won the right to link his two-kilowatt wind generator to New York's Orange and Rockland Utilities system in order to sell any surplus power at a "windmill rate," only to receive a contract that calls for him to pay minimum charges of "$4.07 monthly, not less than $24.42 per contract, plus $4.30 per kilowatt of windmill-generated capacity per month" and $1.00 a month for an extra meter!

Solar Cabooses

Southern Railway is so pleased with the performance of the 22 cabooses it equipped with overhead solar photovoltaic cells that the firm has ordered panels for 58 more cars. The railroad has also installed solar panels along its right-of-ways to operate train detectors and grade-crossing and signal lights.

In Brief

A University of Houston environmental psychologist says that people who once took pride in having the first color television set on the block are now installing solar energy systems .... New Jersey lawmakers asked Congress to authorlze construction of a "trashohol" plant to convert millions of tons of the state's garbage into alcohol fuel .... Meanwhile, potato grower Farrell Palmer of Aberdeen, Idaho turns his culls into ethane by firing his still with old crankcase oil from his farm vehicles and a local service station .... The South African Minister of Agriculture encourages that country's farmers to grow sunflowers and extract the plants' oil for use in tractors, instead of expensive diesel fuel .... We thought you'd like to know that there are two gasoline pumps in the garage of the U.S. Senate, where top-ranking Democrats and Republicans can buy fuel for—at last report—just 67¢ a gallon.


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