Thursday, October 13, 2011

Can Biofuels Replace Petrofuels by 2030?

A new report from Pike Research forecasts the doubling of global biofuels value to $185 billion by 2021. More at GCC Logically, since such changes typically occur exponentially, one would expect another doubling by 2026 and yet another doubling before 2030 -- to a global biofuels value of near $800 billion. While that level of production is not large enough to replace petro-fuels, it is more than large enough to destroy the dreams of peak oil doom-disciples.

But is it logical to expect that type of growth in biofuels over the next 20 years? One of the largest obstacles to that rosy picture, is the fact that it will be generally cheaper to convert coal, gas, bitumen, kerogen, and methane hydrates to liquid fuels, than it will be to convert biomass to liquid fuels. As long as those feedstocks are readily available at cheap prices, large scale biofuels will likely depend on government regulations and mandates to be profitable.

What about the food vs. fuels debate? This question is easier to answer, and has always been something of a tempest in a teapot. Better methods of food production are spreading across the globe, which as long as third world birthrates do not balloon, will ease food pressures in the hungrier parts of the planet. Biomass for biofuels will come from a variety of sources, including specially designed and adapted energy crops, energy crops that are grown in seawater and on salty or marginal soils, and perhaps even crops that are grown inside cities themselves, on integrated high rise farms. Crop growing area will not be a problem, since algae can grow on roughly 80% of the Earth's surface -- and algae are the most prolific biomass crop known. More on algal biomass

The conversion from petroleum fuels to biofuels, synthetic fuels, and other unconventional fuels, is likely to be uneven and tumultous. As economic conditions change, levels of demand for fuels will change. As technologies for different types of fuel production develop, the economic benefits and costs will shift to favour different types of production. We should not expect to see a smooth, exponential growth in the production of biofuels between now and 2030. Instead, we are likely to see a very bumpy and uneven -- but significant -- level of growth in bioenergy and advanced biofuels.

Biofuels will not replace petrofuels, because there will be no need for total replacement. Such ideas are absurd on their face, and inconsistent with how real world economies of substitution work. In the absence of government interference, biofuels will have to compete with petro-fuels and synthetic fuels from unconventional hydrocarbons. These liquid fuels will have to compete with gaseous fuels and electrical systems for heat and transport.

If a long-awaited nuclear renaissance occurs, electrical systems of heat and transport will be given a huge boost, and will begin to take market share away from liquid and gaseous fuels.

It should be pointed out that government has been the enemy of safe, abundant, reliable energy. In particular, the energy starvation agendas of green-influenced governments in the US, Germany, and other western governments are causing undue economic hardship on their citizens -- and retarding the onset of a more abundant and prosperous future. In addition, these green-influenced government policies are worsening environmental conditions, rather than improving them, out of a misguided pseudoscientific carbon hysteria.

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