Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NAS report on the biofuels industry has raised concerns

Robert Brown, professor of mechanical engineering at Iowa State University on the October 2011 NAS report on advanced biofuels:

"But I discovered that the petroleum industry consultant engaged by the panel to prepare the economic analysis for the report did not like our analysis for pyrolysis-based biofuels," Brown said.

The consultant, he said, decided ISU's capital costs were too low and "raised them sufficiently" to make the advanced biofuel economically unattractive in the near-term.

"We discovered that he employed unpublished data that only he had access to, which is not stated in the report," he said. "In the research community, such inaccessible data would never be allowed in a peer-reviewed publication, but its use in the National Academy report gives it the stamp of credibility that it does not deserve.

"I am disappointed that two years of analysis by researchers from academia, the national labs, and a petroleum company using detailed process models and vetted by three separate groups of reviewers can be dismissed by one person who extrapolated one unpublished data point."

The NAS re-analyzed existing data in a way "that allowed the study to make broad generalizations about advanced biofuels, which are not supported by the published literature," Brown said.

Virginia H. Dale, Oak Ridge National Laboratory corporate fellow:

"I find parts of the report to be misleading if the assumptions of the analysis are not considered," she said.

Dale describes the NAS report as a "compromise" among the academic committee members and is based on research published in the literature -- not necessarily based in science.

"It is difficult to conduct a scientific process when the data are inadequate, models are applied at scales inappropriate to the situation, or key processes are not included in the theories," she said. "All of these limitations are applicable to current analyses of effects of biofuels."


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