On April 5th, at PSE&G’s Greenfest in New Jersey, I had the pleasure of meeting with Daryl Hanna, America’s First Lady of Green. Both charming and engaging, Daryl provides a whirlwind of information surrounding the green movement in both America and abroad.
Her passion as an activist has brought her much notoriety but I found her values to be firmly rooted in well-researched knowledge and a practical approach to the challenges that we face. The following, taken from my personal interview on alternative vehicle fuels, supports this.
G2BG: I know that you are a big supporter of biodiesel, the Obama administration seems to feel that full-electric is the way to go for our car companies, do agree?
DH: I do think full electric is the way to go but only if it can be supported by clean energy; not nuclear or “clean coal” which are falsely billed a clean energy. If powered by wind or solar then definitely so, especially with new generation batteries, because obviously battery disposal is an issue too. There are companies that are developing new types of batteries and that is where we should be focusing our efforts. Biofuels though are an option that is available today. Any fuel injected engine can run on a 50% alcohol mixture. With a small modification kit, any petroleum engine can be made to run on straight alcohol. Henry Ford originally built his cars to run on alcohol just as Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to run on vegetable or peanut oil. As long as biofuels are harvested, produced and distributed using sustainable methods, I think they are a suitable alternative. I don’t think the “hydrogen highway” is the answer, I think it ends at a nuclear reactor. But now is the perfect time to start shaping a future, with all these bailouts Obama could set minimum mileage standards for all new vehicles developed by our car companies. Or perhaps mandate that all new models are at least flex-fuel.
G2B2: It’s interesting that you brought that up, one of the biggest obstacles the car companies face is range, they claim that the battery technology today does not provide enough range for the average commuter. Why can’t they develop a battery that could easy be swapped by an attendant at an existing filling station for a fully-charged one?
DH: There is actually a car company that has proposed a whole system of exchangeable batteries and I think they are planning a pilot program in Cuba or somewhere. But there are several countries looking at this now as well. This would take the cost of the battery, now at thousands of dollars, out of the car because you would be in fact leasing the battery. It is an idea worth exploring but there are other options as well. Batteries used in defense, such as missiles and surveillance have to go incredible distances and be very lightweight. So there is technology that does exist that has yet to be commercialized. We have to start making these available. Unfortunately there has not been a market because all the practical electric cars to date have been crushed. Everyone who had one of those electric RAV 4s was sobbing when they took it away.
G2B2: OK, let’s switch gears a bit. The SBA (Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance) that you founded claims to be working on a set of guidelines, can you elaborate on that?
DH: Sure. Well when this whole biofuel thing got started it was mostly small scale farmers and people who were naturally producing fuels in an ethical and responsible way. But as it took off and many big companies started showing up at the conferences and getting into the game, suddenly rainforests were being burned down to put up palm oil plantations and huge fields of GMO feedstocks were created and they were all like “Woo hoo! we’re gonna make lots of money”. These practices could ultimately lead to even worse problems than we have now. So what we are trying to do is create a set of practices kind of like “Fair Trade” that will eventually lead to some type of certification for biofuels so that you know that they were harvested, produced and distributed in a sustainable manner.
G2BG: I read something on your website about farming algae as a source for biofuel, has there been any new develops in this?
DH: Yes, algae has a huge potential as the yield is much higher than traditional stocks like corn and it can be used for bioremediation of waste water. Cattails are great for bioremediation as well and can be used for alcohol production. A small bio-remediation field of cattails can produce 1000 gallons of alcohol a year, enough for me to drive all around LA for a whole year. And of course, hemp is a great source crop but we aren’t allowed to grow it our country even though it doesn’t contain any THC. There a many others as well that need little if any fertilization or irrigation. But everyone is searching for this silver bullet when what we are really talking about is silver buckshot. Ultimately we don’t want a centralized energy system anyway. The same way we don’t need industrialized agriculture. These do not provide security; for real security in food and energy we need to begin producing and distributing these within our local communities. There are many small scales systems available now that people can use within their own communities to take their power back.
Unfortunately our interview was cut short as we made our way to a meeting room for a public panel discussion that she was participating in. I hope to be able to continue my discussion with Daryl in respect to the de-centralization of our food and energy supplies as I felt as if I touched the tip of an iceberg. If presented with the opportunity, I implore all of you to see her speak, it’s worth the trip.