"Cellulosic ethanol technology is a lot closer to reality than a lot of articles would have you think," said Jacques Beaudry-Losique, manager of the Department of Energy's Biomass Program this morning at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. After some well-publicized studies stated that corn-based biofuels might exacerbate CO2 damage to the environment, focus has shifted to these so-called "second generation" biofuels that use non-food crops such as switchgrass, wood chips or crop residues (e.g. all the parts of the corn plant that are currently wasted after harvest--the stalk, leaves and "cob").
He projects that only 6 percent of biofuels in the U.S. will come from corn—31 percent will come from these crop residues, 28 from perennial crops like switchgrass and 27 percent from forest resources. The trick (as always) is making it cheap. If the DOE's $250-million-a-year R&D efforts can get the cost of these cellulosic ethanols down to $1.30 a gallon by 2012 (compared to $2.40 today), the technologies will scale up to 3 billion gallons a year by 2015 and 16 billion gallons by 2022.
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Some news of progress is good to know, but still its not there yet.
I'm glad folks are finally realizing the damage being done by corn produced ethanol. This may have started off with good intentions, but I am convinced that the environmental damage outweights the overall benfit. Our supply of fossil fuel will eventually be consumed, this is a certainty; and a substitute fuel source must be found that is plentiful, cheap, and environmentally friendly. The song "Money make the world go around" should be the ethanol them song. Cut down forests and scrub land to plant corn despite the loss of viable CO2 sinks. Spray enough fertilizer on the ground to keep corn growing year after year despite environmental runoff and growing algae blooms and dead zones in the oceans. Drive up the price of food for both human's and animals, especially the poor who depend on cheap corn. It is a wasteful practice that requires too much ariable land to do anything but extend the day when fossil fuel runs out. A combination of technologies must be applied to solve this problem properly and it must be harnessed to support both the fixed power grid and the mobile fuel requirements of aircraft, ground transportation vehicles (trains, trucks, cars), and vessels at sea. At the same time these energy sources must tackle the associated environmental issues. Private companies exist to make profit. Exxon-Mobil is a prime example. While they provide huge tax revenue to state and federal coffers and give us a reliable fuel source, they do not, in my opinion, contribute to the overall ballance required for a long term sustainable fuel source combined with a viable environment. The fixed power grid may require a combination of generation IV nuclear plants, solar and wind generation, geothermal, and clean burning coal. The mobile power source might require ethanol and biodiesel along with an increase use of electric trains and cars. Lastly, let us not overlook the growing world population and the associated need for land, food, and fresh water. There will have to be a very ballanced approach made that factors in all the goods and evils of each fuel source and it might mean paying $3 or more a gallon to achieve it. I would rather pay a little more and enjoy the benefits of a clean environment than have cheap fuel and a degraded environment. At the least, we need to pass on, to the next generation, an environment that is repairable.
The great appeal of cellulosic ethanol is that it can be produced from non-agricultural plants on scrub lands not suitable for farming. These plants do not require cultivation or fertilizer. Cellulosic ethanol can also be produced from wood waste.
Here in central BC, our pine forests have been decimated by a pine beetle epidemic. We must remove the dead trees from the forests as soon as possible to prevent fires and to replant new trees. We have found many innovative uses for this dead wood. Cellulosic ethanol would provide us with another good use for our wood waste.
The problem with cellulosic ethanol is that the feedstock is NOT a waste product to mother nature,which recycles this "waste" to enrich the soil.We are in effect mining the soil if we use waste wood,grasses for making ethanol.
The same goes for oil from algae.It never occurred to me that one proposal for using CO2 from coal fired plants to feed algae bioreactors just delays the release of the CO2 until it is released by an engine burning the algae biofuel!
Check out this thought provoking article: http://tinyurl.com/6m9uxt
I found the comment by RMORTI to be insightfull and accurate. I think that we should concentrate more than we have in the past on the combined approach he outlined, except he missed a couple. One is ocean-wave generater, another is change-salt recovery, there are more, but you get the idea.