Biofuel Updates

[ Articles that honestly discuss the failure of biofuels are rare.  The best overall view of of why biofuels won’t work is Peak Soil  and a German academy of science study recommending against using biofuels. Also see why algae can never work in Dozens of reasons why the world doesn’t run on algal biofuels .  Here it is 2016 and there is still no commercially successful cellulosic ethanol plant.  Which does no good anyhow, since trucks cant run on ethanol, diesohol, or even gasoline, and when trucks stop running, civilization ends.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Biello, David. 2011 August. The False Promise of Biofuels The breakthroughs needed to replace oil with plant-based fuels are proving difficult to achieve. Scientific American.

Many biofuel companies have failed . Range Fuels closed its new biorefinery having never sold any ethanol, partly because the wood chip material spoiled on the ground.

There is still no biofuel that can come close to oil in price or energy  despite:

  • Hundreds of millions of dollars from the government
  • More than 24 venture capital companies
  • Over 40 years of research

Ethanol is only affordable because of enormous federal subsidies: 5.68 billion in 2010.

We use 40% of our corn crop grown on 32 million acres of farmland to make a trivial amount of ethanol to add to gasoline. If all of the corn grown in 2009 was used to make ethanol, it would only replace 18% of our gas consumption.  Replacing all the gas would take a farm 3 times the size of the United States according to J. Craig Venter.

To break down cellulose we need a super-enzyme, but there is no possibility of such an enzyme working quickly because biological interactions take time (think of making bread with yeast) – so high-volume production would be difficult.

Enzyme costs are way too high now for there to be any hope of a biofuel industry.

Even if a faster, cheaper enzyme were invented, there’s have to be so much sugar in the cellulose that you could get them at one-third the cost of a barrel of oil.

Even if a fast, cheap, one-third of a barrel enzyme were invented the environment and food production would be terrible.  There is no such thing as “waste” because the non-edible portions of plants need to be returned to the soil to provide nutrition for next years crop.  The act of baling and hauling “waste” away accelerates soil erosion, so you can’t grow much crop the next year.  Once company estimates the most “waste” you cold remove safely would provide only 3% of U.S. gasoline demand.

The environmental cost is huge: the “dead zone” in the gulf of Mexico keeps getting larger from the fertilizer runoff from growing the corn

Biofuels made from the non-edible parts of corn and other plants hasn’t worked out.  This is partly due to a recurring problem where something that works on the bench top at a lab won’t scale up commercially.  We were supposed to be producing 100 million gallons of cellulose fuel by now, we may not even produce 6.5 gallons.

It’s not a simple problem to solve.

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