Thursday, August 27, 2009

Minnesota Project Report PDF Available

The Minnesota Project released a study titled: Transportation Biofuels in the United States: An Update, which details the progress made in cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol research, and discusses biofuels generally.

The study focuses on the four main cellulosic feedstocks, including: corn stover, miscanthus, switchgrass and wood. _Bioenergy
The Minnesota Projects PDF report provides some extremely favourable data for the future of biofuels for transportation. Looking at maize ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, algae biofuels, and wood biofuels, the report suggests that the corner has been turned, and that profitability and sustainability in biofuels is virtually here.

Maize ethanol is already produced with a positive energy balance, but the energy balance of cellulosic ethanol is far more positive. Algal biofuels holds the most promise of these approaches, and after current problems are solved will likely replace most of the current petro-diesel on North American highways.
Algae has excited scientists and environmentalists for years with the oil production potential it presents. Current estimates for the oil yield of algae are around 10,000 gallons per acre (Oilgae 2008). This potential compares quite favorably to other plant-oil crops including soybean (48 gallons per acre), safflower (83 gallons per acre), sunflower (102 gallons per acre), rapeseed (127 gallons per acre), castor bean (151 gallons per acre), coconut (287 gallons per acre), and oil palm (636 gallons per acre) (Addison 2008). This high production potential, if achieved, could drastically reduce acreage demands to produce biofuels and increase biofuels’ ability to meet demand. “If we were to replace all of the diesel that we use in the United States with an algae derivative,” says Solix Biofuels CEO Douglas Henston, "we could do it on an area of land that’s about one-half of one percent of the current farm land that we use now" (Haag 2007).

.....The positives of algae as a feedstock are clear: potential yields are high; it grows rapidly; it grows in salt water, freshwater, contaminated water, on land not suitable for food production, and at sea or in ponds, leaving land open for food production; and it grows better when fed extra carbon dioxide and organic material like sewage, providing the opportunity to clean up other problems during its production. Obviously research and development are still needed to increase the cost-effectiveness of algae biofuels for large-scale production. _ MinnesotaProjectPDF
Cellulosic ethanol from grasses and trees is not far off. But unless auto makers modify engines to run on high concentrations of ethanol, we will soon build up a glut of the product. The Russian beverage market may be a solution, but the population of the bear is shrinking, so another cure must be found.

Ethanol can be converted to hydrocarbons and other high value chemicals, so the problem may not turn out to be such a problem after all.

Most of the objections to biofuels apply mainly to 1st generation fuels whose production processes are already obsolete. The future of biofuels is much brighter than the primitivists and doomsayers project.



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