I started writing this post full of optimism and gusto. Partway through, tragedy struck, and I hit a wall. After some painful reflection, and time to heal, I think I have found a way to cope, and even regain some sense of purpose. I will get to the source of my angst, as well as the mental salve, in a moment, but first a bit of background.
Reading the reports in May about the apparently irreversible melting of a large section of Antarctica, was distressing, but was not the tragedy I alluded to in the above paragraph. I had seen and read plenty of previous articles on the topic. Something that stood out in this round of media coverage was the fact that a government-funded, military advisory panel also went on record, stating that “The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict.” At the time, I took comfort in the fact that the end result of our work at TerViva will address the underlying cause that has led to the effect highlighted in the first article linked to above: the melting of the polar ice caps.
Shortly after the news media forgot that ice caps were melting and that the military considers climate change to be a severe risk, a couple of relevant press releases surfaced. UOP is an organization that, in part, produces fuels from renewable feedstocks; they announced in July that their technology was selected for use in an $800 million dollar facility to produce renewable jet fuel and renewable diesel in the United Arab Emirates. Amyris is a company that produces hydrocarbon feedstocks from plant material that can be used in a variety of products typically produced from petroleum. In July, Amyris put out a press release stating that the hydrocarbons they produce from renewable sources will be blended with jet fuel, and used to power commercial flights by the Brazilian airline GOL. It was great to see these bits of PR in the context of the bad news regarding climate change; but the Amyris PR was special for another reason: it pertained to the World Cup.
Now to change gears, but first, a mea culpa: I am a partisan. I broke out my finest red white and blue apparel, and cheered the US side through every game of this World Cup, even when it meant arriving at a local bar in Waikiki at 6:00am because my lodging didn’t have a cable hook up to allow me to watch in my pajamas. This, of course, leads me to the tragedy I indicated in the opening paragraph. The US squad, as we are all now aware, was sent home after the Belgian side somehow managed to win the match against the supremely stellar squad from the US (delusional thinking is part of my grieving process).
This bit of historical reinterpretation leads me to the (rhetorical) strategy I have devised for the US to “win” the World Cup. I use quotations around the word “win” because, admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. Earlier in this post, I mentioned the dire scenario facing us as a society: melting ice caps, societal disruption and environmental degradation. I also pointed to a pair of American companies that are at the forefront of renewable energy production. Let’s face it: the American soccer (OK, futbol) team may not win the cup anytime soon; until that happens, I would argue that it would be a major win for America, and the world as a whole, if we can follow the lead of groups like UOP & Amyris, and power the world cup using regenerative fuel and energy.
To that end, a thought experiment. TerViva, the company I work for, produces regenerative plant-based oil from orchards of pongamia that can be used for fuel production. The experiment:
How many acres of pongamia would TerViva have to plant in order to produce enough jet fuel to transport all of the national soccer/futbol teams from stadium to stadium during the 2014 World Cup?
First, some assumptions will be necessary. A caveat: I am making many of these assumptions very liberally, and do not intend the conclusion to be utilized for any purpose other than the readers’ (hopefully) mild amusement. These are my assumptions:
• 1 gallon of raw pongamia oil = 1 gallon of finished jet fuel
[Some impurities are removed, and some reagents are added stoichiometrically during the fuel production process; for simplicity I stick with a 1:1 ratio]
• 100% pongamia based fuel, 0% conventional jet fuel (I know, unrealistic at this point, but indulge me)
• I will assume 2,000-flight miles/team/game. This figure is tricky because the amount of flying each team does is wildly divergent. Example: US has to fly over 10,000 miles in only the group stage(!), while the Belgians only had to fly a little over 1,000 (Belgium! *author shakes fist*). I’m estimating conservatively, and again, this is just a thought experiment so bear with me.
• 0.66 miles per gallon for the average Boeing 737 in the GOL fleet. Again, this is a difficult number to pin down, but as I’ve said, this is a thought experiment
• 64 games in a World Cup tournament
• The calculations:
•64 games * 2 teams/game * 2,000 miles/team * 1.52 gallons/mile * 0.0025 acre/gallon = ~1,000 acres of TerViva pongamia orchards to supply all of the jet fuel required to transport national teams during 2014 World Cup
So, with a little less than 1,000 acres, TerViva could grow enough oil to fly every national team around the country of Brazil for the World Cup. I admit I was pretty cavalier with my assumptions, so I tell you what, multiply that figure ten-fold. Assume TerViva would need 10,000 acres to produce enough oil to fly all of the teams around the country for this soccer tournament. No problem.
Context is necessary here: the country of Brazil grew corn and soybeans on 88,500,000 acres in 2008-2009. The United States of America grew 84,800,000 acres of soybeans alone in 2014.
Given this knowledge, I would posit that there is easily enough land on which we could produce far greater supplies of fuel and energy feedstocks than is needed by the World Cup. In this way, I would argue that while it would be a small victory, and while we wouldn’t be able to hoist that hallowed golden cup above our collective heads, America could come away the victor of all subsequent World Cup tournaments. If we did so while guiding the world toward a renewable-based energy economy, that would be great, but the real victory will come whenever the Red White and Blue can finally bring home World Cup Glory… until then, TerViva will keep planting pongamia.