Guest Column: The Long and Winding Biofuels Road
by Tammy Klein (Hart Energy/Fuel Fix) …A Hart Energy study examined mandated ethanol production vs. capability and arrived at this inconvenient truth: The government, through the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, has ordered production of cellulosic biofuels to ramp up to 16 billion gallons a year by 2022; the country, however, will be able to generate no more than 900 million gallons by then, if that much.
…The Renewable Fuel Standard was based on the premise that next-generation biofuels made from cellulosic material like switchgrass, wood chips and non-edible parts of plants will deliver energy security and a healthier environment with lower greenhouse gas emissions from our cars. And they will … someday. But policy makers seized upon the promise of the future and assumed that the technology to make these fuels work on a large scale would be achievable tomorrow. Then they sought to legislate accelerated scientific development. If only it really worked that way….
An industry shackled by incongruous legislation like this cannot attract needed investment to develop and improve its products. Success in the biofuels field depends on cutting-edge science because the most promising developments, like algae-based fuels, are still nowhere near commercial production.
That’s not to say that the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 has not been a profound success in a sense. Your gasoline-powered car, and just about everybody else’s, runs on a blend that contains up to 10 percent ethanol. We are way past the “someday we’ll grow our fuel, kids!” stage.
… Investments are needed, along with heaps of patience, because biofuels offer the best, most realistic hope right now of reaching long-sought energy goals. The world will very shortly be dominated by huge increases in energy demand from Asia, led by China and India, and we will need a diversified energy portfolio that includes biofuels. Every molecule will count. It’s just that the research and development for next-generation biofuels isn’t quite there yet. Commercial-scale production is still some distance into the future.
In a world in which our phones can let us shoot videos, read the news and play “Words with Friends,” it might be difficult to remember that technological development does require time and patience. READ MORE