Sunday, February 17, 2008

On the future of biofuels [?]

The San Diego Union Tribune notes about biofuels:

Also, oil can be produced by microalgae living in shallow ponds using the nutrients in municipal wastewater. With such plant and algal sources and with new industrial processes and fermentations, we could have a true greenhouse gas neutral transportation system that prevents further buildup of carbon dioxide and the two other greenhouse gases released as a result of agricultural practices – methane and nitrous oxide – into the atmosphere. Indeed, the other greenhouse gases have to be counted as well. Jeff Severinghaus, of UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, reported at the meeting that for those crops that require nitrogen fertilizers such as corn, canola and switchgrass, the release of nitrous oxide by soil bacteria may negate the positive effect of carbon dioxide absorption by photosynthesis.

So, when can we implement those solutions that promise to reduce greenhouse gases? Major technological breakthroughs are still needed to make these biofuels a reality. For one, the new crops need to be bred and selected – domesticated – for high biomass production. We still need to find the best genes and create the most efficient bacteria that would carry out these novel fermentations to produce alkanes rather than ethanol. We also need to develop more economical methods for the large-scale cultivation of algae and ways of extracting the new fuel molecules. Unfortunately, research on plants, algae and microbes has been woefully underfunded for decades as the nation focused its research dollars on human health and diseases.

Note clear the Union Tribune discussed all the options, including (but not limited to) the Coskata processs.

See also post on inventorspot from 17 Feb:

Alternative fuels have been taking a beating in the media over the last few weeks. Recently, a major technology journal, Science, released 2 publications reporting that producing biofuels will actually lead to more greenhouse-gas emissions than petroleum based fuels. Many people are beginning to question the viability of Ethanol. However, a new production method from Coskata may be the answer.


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