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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Some Sense From GM

I’ve come across a General Motors statement that finally makes sense! It has nothing to do with automobiles or the ways they are built.

Rather, it describes a vast source of practical energy that grows annually in this country and is left on the farm after harvest —the non-edible parts of plants such as cornstalks and husks, wheat straw, grain sorghum, soybean, cotton and other stalks.

THE TECHNICAL paper, “Energy Potential from Agricultural Field Resi­dues,” by GM’s Farno L. Green, suggests a realistic solution to many of our energy problems. It is a solution that is annually renewable (a “solar prod­uct,” says the author), virtually pollution-free and likely to encourage food production for a hungry world.

In presenting his paper recently before the Ameri­can nuclear society, Green pulled together various technical studies and re­sults from a practical demonstration of burning agricultural residues mixed with coal at a GM plant.

One of his conclusions is noteworthy: “Imported oil and gasoline needed in the next decade can be re­placed by liquid fuels pro­duced from agricultural residues.”

Well, Messrs. Ford, Simon and Zarb! Will you believe what the environ­mentalists have been say­ing, now that General Motors is saying it?

Or will you still advance your devastating price decontrol program next month that will extract bil­lions of dollars from the consumers’ pocketbook to pay for your induced super-inflation?

WHAT GREEN WROTE is important not only for pinpointing agricultural residues as a major energy source. It is important not only because he acknowl­edged that other solar ener­gies such as wind, tides, solar heat, wood waste products and energy planta­tions with fast growing plants (sunflowers, for example), deserve serious consideration.

Green’s analysis shows that numerous homegrown forms of energy exist, and that these, with energy con­servation, can help over­come our energy shortfall, reduce pollution, advance efficiency and conserve capital.

Yet such opportunities are being knowingly down­graded by federal officials and oil company execu­tives. The reason: oil companies do not control these energy forms; and energy conservation re­duces sales and profits of the energy corporations.

Consider the subject of Green’s arresting thesis! He states that it is “eco­nomically feasible to har­vest the residues.”

If two-thirds ‘of the agri­cultural residues had been used as a source of energy markets in 19’2 (leaving one third for erosion and soil quality control. etc. ), the heat value would have been about equal to 30 per­cent of the coal produced in the entire country. Accord­ingly, if U.S. food produc­tion doubles in the next 20 years, as some specialists forecast, the residues would also double.

Such a “second crop” fits in well with the farmer’s equipment and schedule. The agricultural residues can be collected after he delivers his principal crop to market. Green describes how, during early Febru­ary, cornstalks were col­lected in Michigan for GM’s pilot protect

FROM THIS kind of effi­cient use of nature’s products, the farm economy will get a sizeable lift, and the economists will be im­pressed by the favorable relation between energy yield and energy input. The assorted residues can be used in numerous ways, according to Green —as fuel for burning in a power burner, as substi­tutes for natural gas in se­lected manufacturing uses, in mixtures with high sulfur coal to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions and as liquid fuels for supplementing gasoline.

Indeed, he refers to a let­ter from Dean Fred J. Ben­son, College of Engineering, Texas A & M University, who suggests that a crop such as grain sorghum can be grown in sufficient amounts and then converted to provide enough liquid fuel for 100 million cars per year.

No wonder GM is inter­ested. But is Exxon inter­ested? And whose interest will in fact prevail in the -interplay of power in Wash­ington?

For a free copy of the GM paper write to General Motors, Detroit, Mich.