We all thought biofuels we're going to be our eco-savior (what could be greener than running our cars on renewable corn, soy, or sugarcane?) That is, until it turned out eco-fuels contribute to rising food prices, put conservation land back into agricultural production, and turn into an all-around bust because fermentation of the starches and sugars put lots of CO2 into the atmosphere. But biofuels may yet make their mark on mother earth.
The quest to find the key to cellulosic biofuels—fuels derived from junk crops like corn husks and cobs, switch grass, and other non-food grade plant matter—has taken a big leap thanks to researchers Mark Mascal and Edward Nikitin at the University of California, Davis. The duo has developed an easy, economic process for creating "furanic" fuels from cellulose. Introducing microcystalline cellulose into a mixture lithium chloride and hydrochloric acid and stirring it for 18 hours, Mascal and Nikitin were able to produce 71 percent CMF, the organic compound 5-chloromethylfurfural which can be mixed with ethanol to create automotive fuel or could be used as the starting point for the synthesis of more complex biofuels.
"Our method appears to be the most efficient conversion of cellulose into simple, hydrophobic, organic compounds described to date," reports Mascal. With luck, it will be the most eco-friendly as well.
Well thats good!
Need i Say any more....
"...and turn into an all-around bust because fermentation of the starches and sugars put lots of CO2 into the atmosphere."
I think if we look at the growth cycle of the corn, the amount of CO2 released from the corn can never exceed the amount of CO2 captured by the corn during its growth (plants take CO2 and give off O2). Once the biofuel is spent/burned, we wind up with neither a net increase or decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere. I would not consider this a bust. The bust occurs when we lose 15% energy efficiency over petroleum and it costs more to produce.
DerivePi you make a good point about the lost energy efficiency, but also the fact that the corn would take in more CO2 doesn't necessarily make it more environmentally friendly. Rather if you were to look at it from the perspective of how much it captures, the better question is would it capture more CO2 than the preexisting environment, and in almost all cases the answer is no.
Then entire biofuels debate often ignores environmental factors in determining crop yield/biofuel yield. Droughts happen infrequently and in a unpredictable manner. Irrigation canals do help, but are only effective to a point.
( got to drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html for current US drought conditions)
We need alternatives that don't rely on environmental variances. I vote electric cars and nuclear power plants.
Drought has been managed for millenia. We've learned to do this since we've been farmers for far longer then we've been machinists.
There are unforeseen factors in any energy market; scarcity of fuel (uranium, oil), weather (katrina knocked out almost all gulf of mexico production), geopolitical problems (russia and natural gas), drought (for biofuels).
Even more reliable would be wind and solar plants. Even better these can be placed in areas that arent productive for other uses like deserts, and the ocean.
We have the options, now we just need the will to put them into action instead of whining about change.