Wednesday, August 06, 2008

2nd Generation Biofuels: The Challenge

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has issued a new report, "Future Biofuels for Australia", discussing second generation biofuels for Australia.
Two major conversion processing platforms exist:

1. enzymatic conversion - enzymes are added to pretreated plant material to depolymerise it to individual sugars which can be fermented to fuels
2. thermochemical - lignocellulose is heated to moderate or high temperatures to produce mixtures of chemicals which can be further transformed by catalysts or microorganisms, to fuels. _CSIRO
While Australia's biomass capacity may be modest next to that of North America, the tropics, or the Russian Steppe, its population is also relatively small. The objective is to meet needs, not to outdo everyone else in production.

"The European Biofuels Challenge" is a new free download discussing several aspects of the transition from 1st generation biofuels to 2nd gen fuels. It contains information on:
* First and second-generation biofuels
* Descriptions of the different types of biofuels currently in use
* Political and environmental reasons for the importance of biofuels
* Drivers and obstacles to the biofuels market
* Trends in the European market such as production heading to Eastern Europe
* The media backlash and furore over the food vs. fuel debate
* Sustainability criteria for biofuels
* Emerging new technologies
* Evidence of industry entrepreneurship
_Download PDF Report Free
The economics of various biofuels approaches are still being worked out. Lignocellulosic energy will eventually supercede fuels from 1st generation biofuel crops such as maize, soy, rape, etc. Whether lignocellulose can provide more economical yields than tropical oilseeds is yet to be determined.

Long-term, fuels from custom-designed micro-organism colonies in serial bioreactors will probably be competing with genetically engineered petroleum-trees and high-yield micro-algae.

1st generation, it is palm oil biodiesel, sugar cane ethanol, and maize ethanol that lead the pack.

2nd generation, it will be ligno-cellulosic alcohols, non-food oilseed biodiesels (along with palm), and perhaps marginally competitive algae biodiesels.

3rd generation, custom biologicals will be mass converting garbage, CO2, and biomass into custom fuels and proto-fuels, as well as even more valuable chemical products. Automobiles will be rapidly shifting to electric power.

By the 4th generation, most transportation loads will have converted to electrical sources of energy. Jet aircraft and spacecraft will be the main consumers of chemical fuels.

Paradoxically, the longer the Luddite US Congress waits to allow development of US oil, coal, nuclear, and unconventionals, the longer it will take to transition to the advanced 3rd and 4th generation biofuels.

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