This morning, I received an email from a gentleman in Australia who is fighting against Australia’s food-for-fuel efforts, actively trying to stop the proposed E10 mandate in New South Wales. He writes:
These policies are facilitating the building of grain ethanol plants and ethanol distribution infrastructures when biodiesel may be the alternative fuel of the future. It is high time that these policies were seriously questioned and the Governments asked why they are persisting with them in the face of evidence that the conversion of grain to ethanol offers little in terms of CO2 abatement, sustainability (both physical and economic), and morality through its contribution to food prices for the world’s poor.
Good to know folks worldwide are battling harmful food-for-fuel policies. Also, he pointed my attention to a recent article from The Australian on the use of algae for biofuels production, which Ed Craig has briefly discussed in this space.
Algae-for-fuel technology is not yet commercially viable, but the process is preferable to food-for-fuel practices, for a number of reasons:
1. No need for large swaths of land; thus no land clearing and no CO2 emissions.
2. No impact on food prices, which is obvious since, well, we’re not burning food.
3. No waiting on crops; algae can replace itself overnight. A March 2007 article in Popular Mechanics says, “Given the right conditions, algae can double its volume overnight. Unlike other biofuel feedstocks, such as soy or corn, it can be harvested day after day.”
Seems simple to me: If federal research dollars are to flow to biofuels, they should go toward (potentially promising) technologies like algae-to-biofuels, rather than toward massive land clearing for the growing and subsequent burning of major food sources. According to John Sheehan, an energy analyst with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., “There is no other resource that comes even close in magnitude to the potential for making oil.” The Popular Mechanics article attests to this: “Up to 50 percent of an alga’s body weight is comprised of oil, whereas oil-palm trees — currently the largest producer of oil to make biofuels — yield just about 20 percent of their weight in oil. Across the board, yields are already impressive: Soy produces some 50 gallons of oil per acre per year; canola, 150 gallons; and palm, 650 gallons. But algae is expected to produce 10,000 gallons per acre per year, and eventually even more.”
So . . . why not eat our corn and work on converting pond scum to fuel? Who’s with me?
For those interested, an algae-to-biofuels summit will take place in New Delhi, India. Also, if you have time for 328 pages, take a look at “A Look Back at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Aquatic Species Program: Biodiesel from Algae,” a close-out report from NREL.