Imagine a future in which airliners run on cornstalks and Navy ships ply the oceans on tanks of switchgrass. That day may be in sight but challenges remain to scale up production, reduce costs and political opposition, and ensure a sustainably produced feedstock.
Biofuels have been around as long as cars have. At the start of the 20th century, Henry Ford planned to fuel his Model Ts with ethanol, and early diesel engines were shown to run on peanut oil. Since plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, crops grown for biofuels should suck up about as much carbon dioxide as comes out of the tailpipes of cars that burn these fuels. And unlike underground oil reserves, biofuels are a renewable resource since we can always grow more crops. The process of growing the crops, however, making fertilizers and pesticides, and processing the plants into fuel consumes a lot of energy. We try to balance those factors here.
Biodiesel, a cleaner renewable alternative to fossil diesel, can be made from any vegetable oil, but best using waste cooking oil. It’s use is growing across the US in 5 to 20 percent blends.
Many millions are being invested in seaweed research from Vietnam to Israel to Chile because producing biofuels in the sea overcomes many of the serious problems with conventional biofuels.
Solazyme is a renewable oil and bioproducts company that transforms algae into high-value oils, and hopes one day to produce enough to rival gasoline and diesel. Their road to the market has been circuitous but instructive as a workable business model for renewable energy.
Can scientists engineer a biofuel that will replace the environmental and climate destroying and evermore expensive fossil fuels central to the functioning of our urbanized civilization? The answer is no and yes.
Thousands of Mayan Q’eqchi villagers were violently evicted from 14 communities, to make way for ‘for export’ agribusiness initiatives, particularly production of sugar cane and African palm trees aimed at biofuel promotion.
Security from World Bank-funded biofuel corporation Dinant massacred legally land-titled Honduran campesinos, casting a shadow on international climate change initiatives.