Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Food vs. Fuels a Bogus Issue: Cellulosic Biofuels Adequate for Global Needs by 2030

German researchers have published a study revealing that by 2030 cellulosic biofuels using pyrolysis and gasification can provide transportation fuels to meet global needs using land not suitable for growing food.
According to Prof. Jürgen O. Metzger from Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, and Prof. Aloys Hüttermann from the Universität Göttingen, a global energy supply based on biomass grown to generate electricity and produce fuel is both a sustainable and economical scenario, contrary to some other current research. Their findings are published online this week in the journal Naturwissenschaften.

The solution, according to Metzger and Hüttermann, is to plant fast-growing trees on degraded areas, and harvest the biomass for energy usage. This afforestation would not compete with the need for arable land for food production. The authors argue that the investment required for afforestation and transformation of the biomass to electrical energy, heat, fuels and chemical feedstock is actually sustainable and not more, probably even less, than what would need to be invested in infrastructure for non-sustainable fossil energy.

For their global overall estimations for transportation fuels, the two used the conversion of the lignocellulosic biomass to biooil (“bioslurry”) via pyrolysis and its subsequent gasification to a syngas followed by Fischer–Tropsch synthesis (biomass-to-liquids, BTL). _GCC
These conclusions suggest that there is no "food vs fuels" issue, and that current technology can solve the global transportation fuels demand in the intermediate future.

Al Fin feels that this study did not go far enough, since huge areas Earth's surface can be used to grow ocean biomass and haplophytic organisms on salty soil. In addition, the potential for growing abundant algae in desert areas using saltwater will multiply potential biofuels much more.

Further development of plant genetics, chemical catalysts, other synthetic and separation technologies, etc. will be helpful--but not necessary for biofuels to play a huge role in the future energy menu.

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