Cultivating Energy, Fuelling Empire: The making of biofuels in a colonized present

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As part of a broader trend towards producing novel energy sources in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, small island developing states such as the Republic of Mauritius are turning to the development of biofuels—energy derived from biological plant matter or biomassas a solution to anxieties over energy scarcity. In Mauritius, popular sources of biofuel feedstock include sugarcane and its discards as well as Arundo Donax, a so-called invasive species-turned-energy crop. At face value, these approaches towards reimagining energy regimes seem to circumvent extractive petrocultures in order to fuel a nascent ‘green’ energy transition. This paper contends that despite attempts to propagate sustainable energy futures, biofuels refigure ‘nature’ and ‘empire’ anew.  They instead demonstrate the ways imperial legacies shore up possible energy futures by invoking deep-rooted colonial knowledge of plantation sugar production in Mauritius to cultivate energy crops. Relying on sugarcane and Arundo Donax as vegetal guides, this paper traces the ways that technoscientific knowledge regarding plantation crops and so-called ‘energy plants’ not only props up visions of sustainable futures, but further sediments colonial-era agronomy as the foundation on which they are built. It confronts, for example, how plant science in colonial Mauritiusa formalized knowledge steeped in legacies of plantation violenceintersects with contemporary reimaginings of biomass, chemical engineering, and innovation to transform colonized plants into viable biofuel feedstock ripe for manipulation. This paper therefore considers how technoscientific practices extrude sustainable energy imaginaries through a pressurized climate of labour exploitation and resource extraction.

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Contributed date

July 19, 2020 - 6:33am

Critical Commentary

Abstract by Jessica Caporusso, submitted to the EASST/4S 2020 PANEL: SUSTAINABLE BIOFUELS?

Cite as

Jessica Caporusso, "Cultivating Energy, Fuelling Empire: The making of biofuels in a colonized present ", contributed by Duygu Kasdogan, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 19 July 2020, accessed 2 December 2021.