Objective Analysis of Sustainability for Liquid Biofuels and Biorefinery Sector

Although less controverial than global climate change or abortion, the liquid biofuels sector and, to a lesser extent, the biorefinery sector, has passionate factions who are diametrically opposed.

As a non-partisan chemical engineer who favors long-term sustainability, technological progress and conservative fiscal responsibility and is highly interested in the emerging biorefinery field, it seems there ought to be a way to reach a clear majority analysis of the scientific and economic justifications to either:
  1. Accelerate progress in liquid biofuels and/or the general biorefinery sector, or
  2. Abandon biofuels/biorefineries and re-focus resources into other energy and industrial product sectors.

Three relevant questions for this situation:

  1. Is there a clear majority analysis (of which I simply happen to not be aware)?
  2. If there is not a clear majority analysis, is it worthwhile to develop such an analysis, at least within the USA?
  3. How can a clear majority analysis most effectively be developed and communicated?

Examples of recent online 'articles' about the two opposed positions:

"Cellulosic ethanol, the next big hope for a biofuels industry hampered during the past year by volatile commodity price swings and shrinking profit margins, is continuing its slow march toward commercialization.

Poet LLC, the nation's top ethanol producer, has opened the spigots on an $8 million pilot-scale biorefinery at its Scotland, S.D., research center that will produce 20,000 gallons of fuel each year from the corn cobs and fiber normally left behind in fields.

Poet's demo plant is a precursor to a larger $200 million commercial-scale biorefinery scheduled to open in Emmetsburg, Iowa, in 2011.

The privately held firm is one of several backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. Department of Energy grants aimed at jump-starting the evolution to fuels made from such noncorn feedstocks as switchgrass, wheat straw and wood chips..."

"An assorted alliance of organizations published an open letter [1] this Thursday, January 15, in the U.S. and internationally, warning of the dangers of industrially produced biofuels (called agrofuels by critics).

The letter explains why large-scale industrial production of transport fuels and other energy from plants such as corn, sugar cane, oilseeds, trees, grasses, or so-called agricultural and woodland waste threatens forests, biodiversity, food sovereignty, community-based land rights and will worsen climate change.

With the new Obama Administration slated to take office Tuesday, the letter's originators warn that if Obama's "New Green Economy" runs on agrofuels it may trap the U.S. in a dangerous "Green Bubble" of unrealistic promises from an unsustainable industry.

Indications that the incoming Obama Administration may be ideologically wedded to continuing the agrofuel disaster are clear. President Obama's "New Green Deal" includes support for notoriously destructive agrofuel corporations, the creation of a pro-agribusiness cabinet that includes Tom Vilsack, Ken Salazar and Steven Chu, promotion of cellulosic fuel technologies, and references to increasing the Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel target.

Additionally, Obama, a former Senator from a corn-growing state, has indicated that the already troubled U.S. ethanol industry will receive a financial boost soon, despite mounting evidence that the industry simply cannot meet the demand for fuel in any just or sustainable way..."
Next steps:
  1. Attempt to communicate to President Obama the need for a clear majority analysis on this issue with the request that his team develop and effectively communicate to the scientific and general public a comprehensive analysis. (Post on change.gov and pursue other communication avenues to communicate this to President Obama.)
  2. Contact other intelligent and objective people for their input on this issue.
  3. Do research to identify the most knowledgeable and objective people in the biofuels/biorefinery sector and to identify other analyses of which side of this issue is most likely sustainable and fiscally justified.
  4. Develop my own analysis with supporting documentation and background information.

If you are strongly interested in this topic, please contact me at bwaldron {att} gmail [dott] com.



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