[USA] The number of alternative energy biofuels in the works is clipping along at a frenetic pace. With a seemingly endless supply of interesting, if not surprising, sources serving as inspiration for that pace, researchers are making headway in their efforts to find cheaper and greener energy solutions.
Unfortunately, though many appear quite promising, few of them are anywhere near advancing on levels of traditional fossil-fuel use.
But things are moving forward. Presently there are some 28 U.S. states that can boast having advanced biofuel companies. The top five are California, Illinois, Colorado, Texas and Iowa. While encouraging, more needs to be done.
Contenders for Best biofuels
From algae to methane, woody biomass, flowering plants, cellulose and even animal fat, we have choices. There are others as well besides the corn, canola oil, sugarcane and soy that usually make the news and are already in use to some extent.
Alas, few are without their drawbacks. The biggest problem with many of them is limited growing space or sustainability. The debate rages on concerning the wisdom of diverting land intended for agriculture for fuel and not food when hunger is a real consideration.
Without sustainability, biofuels lose their ground as viable alternatives to petroleum. The two that appear to have the most promise are algae and woody biomass, and for similar reasons.
This particular resource for biofuels is very similar to cellulose in that certain grasses or plant materials are ingredients, but not the only ingredients.
Woody biomass is made up of non-food feedstocks, agricultural waste, and Miscanthus, a type of grass indigenous to parts of Asia and Africa. All of these appear to have good prospects for sustainability.
California-based Cool Planet Energy has developed a biofuel using this woody biomass that claims to be chemically identical to gasoline with the added benefit of being carbon negative.
Besides this major plus, it costs just $1.50 a gallon with no government subsidy. By mid 2013 the company was happy to report it had already raised $30 million out of a goal of $100 million to fund the first commercial facility in connection to the project.
Their hope is to create small modular biorefineries that could produce up to 10-million gallons of fuel per year.
Algaculture, as it’s being called, is currently at the center of a lot of excitement in regards to meeting the world’s renewable energy needs. As opposed to other biofuels, algae have the unique ability to produce large quantities of biodiesel without the need for fertile land or watering.
Add to that its natural abundance and staggering growth rate, and it would seem you’ve got a real contender for heavy, long-term consumer demands.
At first glance this renewable energy source has no drawbacks, but some scientists are concerned about the very same thing that makes it so alluring: growth. It can quickly crowd itself out, which causes massive die offs due to lack of light and photosynthesis.
A promising solution may lie with Vertigro, an experimental system engineered by Glen Kertz at a facility near El Paso, TX.
For and Against Biofuels
Back in 2009 Norway’s Finance Minister proposed a ban on gas-powered cars in favor of those powered by alternative energy by 2015. This applied to new vehicles only, but it was still a bold move considering they were the 6th largest oil exporter in the world at the time.
Obviously, big oil has the most to lose. The players on that stage would doubtfully ever [willingly] vacate their thrones without a fight. Not only do we know how deep their pockets are but — at least in this country — we know who’s in them. Gradually, though, with the right biofuels, resistance is futile.
Photo: (Getty Images/Ethan Miller) Algae is a growing source for biofuels as a source for alternative energy