Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How Green are Biofuels?

The US Deptatrment of Energy (DOE) has opened a new research center in Emeryville, CA. It was lauded this week in the San Francisco Chronicle are representing the coming together of the economic and scientific realms to meet future energy needs. Of course, this was in an OpEd written by the Secretary of DOE, Samuel W. Bodman.

However, there are concerns for Greens that I will discuss if you click Read more!.

There are two concerns with the search for an energy solution through bio-fuels.
  1. BioFuels, while renewable to a certain extent, are still fuels that will contribute green house gasses (ghg's) to the atmosphere. The argument is that this will only be equal to the amount of CO2 that they take from the atmosphere while growing, a steady state equation.
  2. Plants produce sugars and other carbohydrates. Some are very efficient in doing this. Others may produce sugars or starches of various chemical formulas that may not be efficiently converted to fuels. One goal of this new center is to engineer plants that are both efficient in growing and which produce chemicals that are efficient in the production cycle. That is accomplished by modifying the genetics of the plants, in effect designing plants that are themselves one step in bio-fuel product.
Greens have a nearly universal antipathy toward GMO's of any kind. Is this an area were we should make an exception?


Philip H. said...

Or, we could stop subsidizing sugar cane farmers to produce sugar for eating, and start growing it for ethanol. It meets most of the "requirements" you outline, and would be more profitable as a fuel crop then a food crop. The corn ethanol lobby won't be happy, so it's unlikely to happen. If you want to be green, make sure you aren't overlooking an already existing alternative.

Wes said...

There are a score of reasons to stop subsidizing all of the commodity crops: corn, soy, wheat, sugar and cotton. However, sugar is a double hit.