July 8, 2008

Biofuels Revisited

For a long time now I have wanted to read more about the issue of whether biofuels are good or bad for mankind i.e. do they have the potential to have a big impact on replacing petroleum based fuels without causing any major upheaval on society at large. While this article may not answer all the questions and the controversies will not die down with just a few studies or articles, here's a start to my edification.
In the July/August issue of SOLAR TODAY magazine, Carol Werner examines the Biofuels dilemna in detail, and concludes that biofuels have the capacity to make a significant contribution to progress against global warming - but only if they're grown using sustainable land-use practices.
Also, this article in the New York Times today, which tells us about a development in Europe that is
a serious damper to the biofuels industry.
Europeans Reconsider Biofuel Goal
European officials proposed scaling back drastically on their goal of increasing Europe’s use of biofuels, a major about-face on a central environmental and energy issue. At the same time, a new report by the British government cast fresh doubt on fuels made from crops as a way to the fight climate change.
But there is good news too. This report today that biofuel technologies were one of the leading recipients of VC money in the 2nd quarter of 2008!
Venture investments in environmentally focused "cleantech" companies rose to a record $2 billion in the second quarter, led by funding for solar-thermal and new biofuel technologies, an industry group said.

Second-generation biofuel companies including Range Fuels, Sapphire Energy, Mascoma, EdeniQ, Amyris Biotechnologies, Greenline Industries, Fulcrum Bioenergy, Gevo, GreenFuel Technologies and Aurora BioFuels raised $280 million in venture investment during the quarter. Of that amount, $136 million was for cellulosic ethanol startups and $84 million was for algae biomass startups.
Moreover, this article in the Wall Streeet Journal (WSJ) reports that the World Bank's biofuels-food prices report was a bit off the mark and biofuels may not be quite so bad as previously portrayed!

Alrighty then! Rather than getting educated aboutbiofuels, like me, you are probably even more confused. Suffice it is to say that the debates will continue to rage on for quite some time!

See my earlier post on biofuels (from almost exactly a year ago) and my post about oil from algae. In addition, the solar and energy efficiency eNewsletter from the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) has some good links this month to go with the aforementioned Solar Today article.
For a primer on the latest biofuels research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory:

If you've got an hour, here's a very interesting presentation by Professor Chris Sommerville, EBI, UC Berkeley, On the Development of Cellulosic Biofuels

Biofuels in the European Union, A Vision for 2030 and Beyond. Biofuels Research Advisory Council

High Fuel Prices to Make Cellulosic Biofuels Increasingly Competitive With Gas, by Madolyn Rogers. Mongabay.com, June 2, 2008

Race to Algae-Based Biodiesel Heats Up, posted by Martin LaMonica. Green Tech - CNET News.com, May 2, 2008

Green Dreams, Making Fuel From Crops Could Be Good for the Planet - After a Breakthrough or Two, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr. National Geographic, October 2007

15 Algae startups Bringing Pond Scum to Fuel Tanks by Katie Fehrenbacher. Earth2tech.com, March 27, 2008

View this short video from Solix Biofuels and Colorado State University about their algae biofuel research.
Also this post at Greentech Media - Algae-Based Biofuel Could Prep for Take Off - has some good updates about recent activity in this field.

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