Sunday, July 17, 2005

How biofuels can help end Americas oil dependence

I'm looking at a very interesting report put together by scientists from the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and several universities and government agencies. They have studied the potential for "biofuels" to end "oil dependence".

How biofuels can help end Americas oil dependence

First they point out the several problems with "oil dependence": a) the U.S. has basically no domestic reserves (we have 2% of the worlds reserves) but use 25% of the worlds oil production, b) meaning the U.S. exports dollars to pay for oil imports, c) the U.S. is increasingly dependant on unstable countries, d) huge health risks from the emissions that come from burning oil.

They claim to have studied the issue up and down, and see that producing "biofuels" instead of "oil" will solve all those problems, plus provide increased wildlife habitat.

Hmm... that's quite a claim, so let's look closer.

The "biofuels" in question are derived from "cellulosic biomass", currently seen to be waste matter. e.g. straw's and husks.

With appropriate processing there are a number of plant material sources which can be converted to a liquid with the same properties as gasoline or diesel, and can be burned in existing vehicles just like gasoline or diesel are used today. Yup, their solution for "oil dependance" is to continue using a liquid fuel, but somehow because it is derived from "biomass" (plant matter) they get away without calling it "oil". Hmmm.... I guess all those PhD's gave them the right to split hairs.

Well, let's get back to the point, as the study itself points to a very positive direction.

By moving towards producing biofuel from plant material, the authors expect farmers to begin growing crops that make the required plant material. In fact the farmers are already growing some crops, and they point out that by selling different parts of the plants they grow to different markets, the farmers can increase their income and diversify their risk.

To produce 7.9 million barrels (equivalent) of biofuels will require 1.3 billion tons of cellulosic biomass each year. Somebody has to grow that biomass, and it's the farmers who will do so and receive the income for that work.

It looks good to me. It is essentially a method of moving dollars spent from exporting dollars to investing them domestically. Further, the technique doesn't have to be limited to the U.S. but can be employed around the world. The most interesting feature to me is to localize production of energy resources.

Currently the production of "energy" is done a long ways away, with oil being mined halfway around the world, and shipped to us here. But that need not be, and there is a lot of wastage just in shipping oil hither and yon. But with fuels derived from plants, the plants can be grown nearby, processed nearby, and therefore the world isn't wasting as much resource on the shipping of oil when it's produced nearby.


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