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.

| November/December 1979


A Department of Energy report foretells energy poverty for the poor as a result of rising energy costs.


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.

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