Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ethanol debate heats up according to ICIS Green Chemicals

Here is an article that sums up a lot of confusion about biofuels and the ongoing political debate focusing on corn ethanol production. Conventional ethanol production with corn (corn ethanol) is obsolete when compared to improved cellulosic ethanol production; see Davy Process Technology. Conventional ethanol production is arguably obsolete in some respects when compared to conventional gas production, especially with regard to ethanol's higher emissions and higher energy requirements. Ethanol production is an investment. Ethanol has wide political support and economic potential.

I would bet that IF a sizable biofuel market could be developed around corn ethanol, then that same market could also be weened off corn ethanol and supplied by an increasingly efficient (greener) supply of ethanol (enabled by something like the Davy process). An increasingly green supply-chain would then naturally occur in time, IF provisions are made for transitioning between progressively efficient technologies. These future transitions between technologies are not unlike one's that have occurred in our recent past.

Problems with biofuels can be eliminated incrementally with innovation.
Biofuels research and development efforts are advancing production efficiencies at a high rate. What is Moore's Law for biofuels?

Green chemical byproducts like ethyl acetate are more widely available because of technologies like the Davy process. So, it is also becoming increasingly feasible to commercialize biofuels like TBK-Biodiesel. In other words technical solutions are available for a transition to producing improved biofuels. Therefore we should not base future projections of biofuels on obsolete biofuels technologies (like corn ethanol). We should base future projections on new biofuel technologies that hold the greatest potential, that are available today, and that are not yet commercialized.

Fortunately, or not, our ability to solve future energy problems is a human problem, not a technological problem. The technologies are already here. But, don't tell anyone lest they find out they're actually part of the problem!

There are technological solutions for many of biofuel's most commonly cited problems.

Here are a few postulates for your consideration while you conduct your own research:

Innovation for biofuels is a necessity for human posterity, not necessarily a necessity for the legacies of incumbent oil firms. There is merit in commercialization of biofuels. Biofuels are one way of developing a greener more sustainable economy that is not dependent on fossil fuels.

We must replace fossil fuels because they will become increasingly expensive as supplies decrease.

When fossil fuels are relied on exclusively there are costs that cannot be recovered at the fuel pump. Consider carbon emissions, air quality, the Gulf Oil Spill and the sociopolitical environment in the Middle East - the costs of the U.S.-Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan.

Ethanol, although not the best possible biofuel alternative, has a proven market and a proven supply-chain. Wider adoption of corn ethanol in the US has led to wider adoption of biofuels in general.

Today's incumbent car manufacturers and oil companies are working to adopt new biofuels (improved blends of biodiesel and ethanol).

The US Navy is spending millions of dollars on biofuels research. That is because biofuels are a national security issue. It is in our best interest to invest heavily into biofuels. You may even consider it patriotic!

-ICIS article providing more information about what inspired this article:
Ethanol debate heats up - ICIS Green Chemicals


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