25 February 2010

Update on Biofuels

 Update 26 Feb 10: A new process developed at UWM promises to convert a higher proportion of biomass into biofuels and useful chemicals.  It is a catalytic shortcut to the production of gasoline and jet fuel from biomass -- skipping the fermentation step to alcohols.  A good illustration of how quickly the bioenergy picture is changing.

Al Fin Energy is devoted exclusively to energy and energy-related issues. But Al Fin's coverage of advanced energy issues began here at Al Fin blog, so it is fitting to provide an update on a topic near and dear to Al Fin's heart -- biofuels.

The schematic above demonstrates Enerkem's waste to liquid fuels process, which recently received a large injection of capital from Waste Management corp.

This informative story from Energy Efficiency looks at important advances in biofuels research and projects in California (impressive improved oil yields from oilseeds), Florida (ethanol from waste), Pennsylvania (cellulosic ethanol), Kansas (cellulosic ethanol), Iowa (fuel from corn cobs), and Tennessee (cellulosic ethanol). And that is just the tip of the iceberg for biofuels research and enterprise across the US. Things are moving quickly beyond maize ethanol.

Clear Fuels and Hughes Hardwood are collaborating on a $200 million biomass-to-jetfuel project in Collinwood, Tennessee.

The University of Maryland is developing a process to produce fuels from fast-growing poplar trees grown on special plantations.

Better varieties of jatropha curcas are being developed to increase non-edible oil yields from its seeds. This is only the beginning for jatropha.

Economists from Yale and the University of North Dakota are busy demonstrating ways for biofuels to be economical and environmentally responsible. This is in stark contrast to economists from Cornell who use old numbers from maize ethanol projects to try to discredit all biofuels. Even maize ethanol is doing much better than the Cornell economists claim.
“The Cornell paper is pretzel logic at its worst. The truth is that when we fuel up with domestic ethanol in the U.S., we need less gasoline refined from carbon-heavy oil. And the science on this is clear: a peer-reviewed study published by Yale University found that grain ethanol is 59 percent cleaner than gasoline – with cellulosic ethanol 86 percent cleaner than gasoline,” continued Buis. _DomesticFuel

Of course the arguments for biofuels really have nothing to do with carbon reduction at all. Instead, they are arguments for local and regional production of energy and fuels, and a re-vitalisation of local and regional economies.

Biofuel feedstocks can be grown virtually anywhere on Earth and on the ocean's surface as well. There is no limit to the space available for growing biomass. Biomass can be turned into electricity, fuels, plastics, chemicals, and animal feed.

It is time to dispense with old prejudices against biofuels that are based upon outdated economic analyses, and begin to plan for where bioenergy will fit into your future.

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