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Quote of the Day: “Photosynthesis sucks”– Tim Searchinger, Princeton University


It seems that photosynthesis only has an eventual efficiency of a fraction of one percent of the energy of sunlight, while solar photovoltaic panels have an efficiency of roughly sixteen percent.  Using such panels to power batteries in cars and trucks will eliminate carbon dioxide emissions in transportation, easing the effects of climate change.  The other major sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide are the production of cement and deforestation.

This evolution of energy sources for transportation will eliminate the problems of palm oils and corn ethanol as biofuels.  Both biofuels are destructive to the environment and compete with food as uses for corn and palm oil.  With a population of nearly eight billion already, we need to have maximal efficiency in order to avoid worsening environmental destruction as we feed,  clothe, house, and transport all of our people.  The development of first-world living standards for all of the people in the world requires maximizing efficiency and eliminating waste in order to prevent excessive destruction of the environment.

The issue of palm oil as a biofuel versus a food and other sources of energy are addressed in the New Scientist article that includes the quote: “Photosynthesis sucks”, attributed to Tim Searchinger of Princeton University.

In reality, as a result of evolution and the competition between plants for maximum efficiency in conversion of solar energy to useful work, photosynthesis has an average efficiency in excess of ninety-nine percent.  Most of the energy realized from photosynthesis is actually wasted (on exactly what is yet unknown), although enough is used in converting carbon dioxide to oxygen that, until the appearance of humans, the vast majority of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was scavenged and enough oxygen was produced to increase its atmospheric concentrations to near the flammability limit.  The “greenhouse effect” caused dramatically high average temperature levels in the biosphere until photosynthesis was stimulated to the point where carbon dioxide was almost completely removed; the average temperature then dropped until freezing reduced plant activity enough to raise carbon dioxide levels to a more moderate level.

Temperature swings from “snowball Earth” to “dinosaur Earth” eventually established the delicate balance with which the world was entirely comfortable… until the appearance of coal-burning humans caused unprecedented rises in carbon dioxide and rapidly increasing temperatures.  Thus, humankind has disturbed the balance that was established over eons of evolution and geological time.

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