Biofuels in Our Energy Future?
By EV World
"We're all in the business of imagining a sustainable world," began Dartmouth professor Lee Lynd as he began is talk about the potential of liquid biofuels to eventually replace petroleum as a motor fuel, cautioning that, "we have a not particularly large set of potentially sustainable resources for energy and other things... It's on the order of a half dozen, and not even a dozen of large scale resources..." that essentially encompass renewable electricity and biomass.
It is the biomass -- or plant-based materials -- that was the focus of his presentation. He classified them into four classes of plants: starch-rich (corn), oil seeds (soy), sugar-rich plants (sugarcane) and cellulosic-rich plants (hybrid populars). Among these, the most competitive is cellulosic biomass that is comparable to oil at $14 a barrel, while soy and rape seed are among the dearest and probably poorest choices in terms of crop yield and land utilization to replace petroleum.
"All biomass is not created equal from the point of view of producing liquid fuels" he stated. Ranking them in terms of what is achievable today based on current technology, the sugar-rich crops placed first, followed by starch-based and last is oil-based crops.
Lynd led a national science study of some 24 "mature" biomass technologies under the name "The Role of Biomass in America's Energy Future". These are technologies that are feasible, though no necessarily build-able at the moment, because in his words, "from a public policy perspective, it is much more important to know where you can get than where you are."
You will want to download Dr. Lynd's presentation in PDF format from the ASPO USA web site in order to follow along with him and better understand the points he makes.
His bottom line is that the smartest approach to dealing with our energy future is to Innovate & Change: "define sustainable futures based on mature but foreseeable technologies in combination with an assumed willingness of society to change in ways that increase resource utilization efficiency." Then once we have defined this future, we must "work backwards from it to develop transition paths beginning where we are now."
In terms of biomass resources, there are ways to produce all or nearly all of the liquid fuels we will need without impinging on our ability to grow the food the world needs, but not without changes in technology, agricultural practices and societal expectations.
You can listen to Dr. Lynd's 20-minute presentation using either of the two MP3 players on this page, or by downloading the 4.7MB file to your computer hard drive for transfer and playback on your favorite MP3 device.
EV World extends its thanks to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil USA for granting us permission to record the conference proceedings and make them available to our premium subscribers.