The Best Stuff We've Read This Week

Each week, Josh and Chuck read tons of articles, some of them really great. Here are the best of the bunch.

Could you live without a refrigerator?

Do you know that hulking refrigerator in your kitchen emits CO2 thanks to the electricity it uses each year? It's a comparatively small amount, in truth, but enough that some people have foresworn their fridge and adopted a life without one. Included are bonus food storage tips.

Let's put this puppy to bed, shall we? Coming in at the number one spot, eclipsing all others, ladies and gentlemen -- I give you switchgrass. Switchgrass is a warm season grass, nothing more than a prairie weed. But just because it has the word grass in it, don't think it's anything like the fescue growing in your back yard. A full season of growth for switchgrass can top out at ten feet high with tough, thick stems. Turns out, this stuff is a miracle worker when it comes to producing biofuel. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that switchgrass can produce 500 percent more renewable energy than the energy required to be grown and processed.

On today's list of top biofuels, we have jatropha. I bet dollars to donuts that most of you haven't heard of this one, and I hadn't either until I started to dig in and do some research. Here's the skinny on jatropha curcas: It's a shrub that can grow most anywhere It's highly drought resistant Doesn't compete with food crops Its seeds are about 35 percent oil Originated in Central America, now grown in Asia Oil can be burned in a standard diesel engine Generates topsoil and stalls erosion One bush can live up to 50 years It also produces four times as much oil per hectare as soybean and a whopping ten times as much as corn. So what's the problem? Well, it's poisonous to both man and cattle and as if now, it needs to be harvested by hand, making it very labor intensive.

Today's entry in the top 5 biofuels spectacular is good old sugar cane. If you're into producing sugar cane, then there's a 45 percent chance you're Brazilian. They produce about that much of the world's ethanol from the cane. And they've been doing so since the 1970s, so they're pretty darn good at it too. The cool thing about sugar cane is that it requires very little energy input to distill down to bioethanol. The reason why is that producers use bagasse, the fiber that remains after extraction of juice from the sugarcane, as the heat mechanism in the distillation process. In other words, they use part of the plant as part of the "fuel" it needs to complete the process. Pretty cool, eh?

Today's entry into the top 5 biofuels sweepstakes is rapeseed. This mustard green is also known as oilseed and canola. Though it is indeed and leafy green, it's largely grown for it's seeds, which are about 40 percent oil. China and Europe produce most it, to the tune of about 47 million tons per year in total. Rapeseed has been used for making soap, oils and plastics manufacturing, but it really shines as a biofuel. In fact, Europe is the leader in making biodiesel from rapeseed oil. Why? Mainly because they heavily subsidize the stuff in Europe, much like the United States does with corn. The EU wants to have 10 percent of its vehicles running on biodiesel by the year 2020 and rapeseed looks to be a major player.