Biofuels & the energy crisis

Written by  //  February 17, 2014  //  Agriculture & Food, Biofuels  //  No comments

More on Biofuels and clean energy

Advantages and Disadvantages of Biofuels
Since the term “biofuel” first entered the energy lexicon of the average consumer, there has been a steady stream of advancements to this technology. While public perceptions on biofuels may have changed over the years, quite a lot of interest in the pros and cons of this fuel source still remain. It is important for all consumers to seriously consider both the positive and negative aspects of this still-emerging technology.

Biofuel from trash could create green jobs bonanza, says report
Advanced biofuels industry could spur hundreds of thousands of jobs across Europe, says new report, but key European parliament vote next week could throw clean fuel ambitions into disarray
29 January
Biofuels are not a green alternative to fossil fuels
Biofuels and bioenergy take up finite land resources at the cost of food production and carbon storage and doesn’t guarantee carbon emissions cuts


George Monbiot: The Biogas Disaster
In principle it’s a brilliant solution. Instead of leaving food waste and sewage and animal manure to decay in the open air, releasing methane which contributes to global warming, you can contain it, use micro-organisms to digest it, and capture the gas.
Biogas from anaerobic digestion could solve several problems at once. As well as a couple of million tonnes of sewage sludge, the UK produces between 16 and 18 million tonnes of food waste, much of which still goes into landfill. Farms here generate around 100 million tonnes of animal manure and slurry, a major cause of water pollution. It could all be processed in digesters. A tonne of food waste can produce about 300 kilowatt hours of energy: the UK’s discarded food, the renewable industry says, could generate enough electricity for 350,000 households. The residue can be used as fertiliser. …
If you want to know where we might be heading, take a look at Germany. Two years ago Der Spiegel reported that
“subsidies for the biogas industry have led to entire regions of the country being covered by the crop … Plans called for transforming Germany into a bio-wonderland by peppering it with numerous small eco-power plants. What resulted was a revolution in the fields, a subsidized gold rush – and an ecological disaster. Corn [maize] is now being grown on 810,000 hectares in Germany”. As a result, “for the first time in 25 years, Germany couldn’t produce enough grain to meet its own needs.”


28 August
Biofuels Getting Heavy Investment From The US Government and Petrobrasbiofuel2
The US committed over half a billion dollars of taxpayer money ($510 million to be exact) over the next 3 years to advancing biofuels into a more usable form available for use by commercial and military aircraft, bringing private and public investment to just over US$ 1 billion. ( Obama calls them “next generation biofuels” because the plan is that they will be cheaper (due to mass production) and more widely available (the algae could be used more effectively). The US government is confident that the investment will speed up biofuel development however that ignores over 50 years of scientific research that yielded few improvements. In Brazil, for example where 90% of new vehicles are being made to run on a combination of bio-fuel and fossil fuel, the country is facing record energy deficits, for example in 2010 imports of fuel skyrocketed as land use demanded during algal biofuel production simply overwhelmed the country; prices skyrocketed also with the price of biofuel rising 85% over the year. Even with the high cost impediments (in the range of $65-$100 per gallon), the US secretary of agriculture countered with “For every dollar increase in the cost of a barrel of oil, it costs the Navy $30 million”. Petrobras aims at ending Brazil’s supply shortage, it is investing $1.9B in the next four years to raise production of ethanol (will invest another $600M in biodiesel and $1.6B in other biofuel operations); $328M is going to Brazil’s biggest sugar ethanol mill, the Boa Vista (49% Petrobras share was acquired in June 2010 for $240M; the other 51% is owned by Sao Martinho) to quadruple production (ethanol production has a 5-10% profit margin). (Reuters: Petrobras, Sao Martinho to expand ethanol output) (traditionally, algae makes up about 60% of biofuel production with the rest coming from other bio sources).


Race for biofuels heats up in Africa
The drive to produce crops such as sugar cane and palm oil that can be converted into biofuels is spurring land grabs across Africa that may contribute to food shortages and deforestation, Friends of the Earth says in a new report. Foreign companies have already purchased more than 19,000 square miles of land in 11 countries and in some cases local residents have been forcibly removed from their homes, the group said. Biofuel proponents believe production would be a boon for Africa, providing economic opportunities and helping to battle climate change. (8/30)
7 May
Biofuels from algae plagued with problems, says review
(SciDevNet) In the rush to produce biofuels from algae, developers have ignored some serious problems with the fuels’ performance, says a review.
When researching his paper, ‘Production and Properties of Biodiesel from Algal Oils’ which will be published by Springer in a book, currently in press, entitled Algae for Biofuels and Energy, he made “unexpected” findings, Gerhard Knothe said.
Knothe found that “many, if not most” of the biodiesel fuels derived from algae have “significant problems” when it comes to their ability to flow well at lower temperatures (‘cold flow’) and they also degrade more easily than other biofuels.
This is because many algal oils — from which the biodiesels are derived — contain relatively high amounts of saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Biofuel farms fall flat
Plantations dedicated to growing jatropha, a biofuel component said to be resistant to drought and pests, have contributed to the poverty of thousands of farmers in India and Tanzania, according to this report. The Independent (London) (2/15)
7 April 2009
Tiny super-plant can clean up animal waste and be used for ethanol production
Researchers have found that a tiny aquatic plant can clean up animal waste at industrial farms and be part of the answer for the global energy crisis. Their research shows that growing duckweed on wastewater can produce five to six times more starch per acre than corn, according to researcher Dr. Jay Cheng. This means that ethanol production using duckweed could be “faster and cheaper than from corn,” says fellow researcher Dr. Anne-Marie Stomp.
Nanofarming technology harvest biofuel oils without harming algae
Algae is being widely touted as the biofuel crop of the future. But one of the main problems with current biofuel technology is that harvesting the oil kills the organisms. Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have developed a method that uses mesoporous nanoparticles to harvest the oil without harming the algae, dramatically reducing production costs and the production cycle.
2 December 2008
Replacing corn with perennial grasses improves carbon footprint of biofuels
Converting forests or fields to biofuel crops can increase or decrease greenhouse gas emissions, depending on where — and which — biofuel crops are used, University of Illinois researchers report this month.
30 September
Credit Crisis May Delay Biofuels Development
(Reuters/Planet Ark) LONDON – A global pull-back from bank lending may dent the commercialisation of biofuel technologies to replace conventional gasoline, said the chief executive of US cellulosic ethanol firm BlueFire Ethanol.
A credit crisis which claimed more bank victims on Monday has raised project finance costs and made ambitious targets to replace replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources look less achievable.
July 22
Brazilian ethanol plants to get $260m loan
The Inter-American Development Bank, Latin America’s biggest development institution, is prepared to defy growing environmental concern about biofuels by lending money to a $1bn-plus Brazilian ethanol project.
July 16
Shell boosts second generation biofuels
Royal Dutch Shell is stepping up investment in research into “second generation” biofuels, putting more money into its joint venture with Iogen, a Canadian biotech company, in spite of having made only slow progress so far.
Iogen is a specialist in the attempt to develop commercial production of cellulosic ethanol … road fuel made not from food crops such as corn and sugar, as with conventional ethanol, but from plant waste such as straw.
Doubts about biofuels mounting in Europe
The European Commission appears ready to back down from previous pledges to ensure by 2020 that 10% of the fuel used on the road be biofuel. The criticism of biofuel as offering only marginal environmental benefits while incentivizing worst practices among farmers seems to have culminated in official concerns about biofuels, in particular given that some evidence shows that biofuels contribute to food shortages and higher food prices. Spiegel Online (7/8)
July 4
Ethanol policies misguided: report
Would boost food costs by $424 million, CD Howe says
The C. D. Howe Institute study said current ethanol policies are having unforeseen consequences in terms of food costs and income distribution. Moreover, the report suggests the evidence is “inconclusive” over the impact corn-and wheat-based ethanol can have in cutting greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions, once the entire ethanol production cycle is taken into account.
Secret report: biofuel caused food crisis
Internal World Bank study delivers blow to plant energy drive
(The Guardian) Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% – far more than previously estimated – according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian.
The damning unpublished assessment is based on the most detailed analysis of the crisis so far, carried out by an internationally-respected economist at global financial body.
[It] emphatically contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food-price rises.
President Bush has linked higher food prices to higher demand from India and China, but the leaked World Bank study disputes that: “Rapid income growth in developing countries has not led to large increases in global grain consumption and was not a major factor responsible for the large price increases.”
Even successive droughts in Australia, calculates the report, have had a marginal impact. Instead, it argues that the EU and US drive for biofuels has had by far the biggest impact on food supply and prices.
Global fuel crisis influenced by weather
The recent floods in the Midwest wreaked havoc with corn crops, which in turn helped drive up ethanol prices by 21% in the past month. The impact of weather on the U.S. biofuels industry is largely felt in the corn belt and Gulf of Mexico. However, only two of the 160 ethanol refineries in the U.S. shut down during the storms. International Herald Tribune (7/1)

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