What about biofuels?

NYT>Science>Environment>Green>Yet Another Route to Cellulosic Ethanol>Feb. 10, 2011

Corn ethanol plant in Colorado.

A/B) My personal commentary:

Lately I've been reading a lot about biofuels— oh, and natural gas/hydraulic fracking, but I'll focus on just one energy source for now. A lot of good questions to ask about biofuels pertain to its viability— economically and sustainably. This NYT's blog post addresses revenue methods for one biofuels plant in particular,  Ineo Bio. I say it's a pretty clever strategy. To summarize the article, Ineos Bio, a subsidiary of a major chemical company, introduced a new concept for bringing biofuels to a commercial scale. This concept involves a three-way stream of revenue. The strategy kind of reminds me of how media advertising works now, in a bundle. To incentive advertisers, media companies throw in 'free' ad space, ie, Seventh Generation pays $1,000 for a half-page ad in The Economist, The Economist throws in Seventh Gen. ads in its iPhone and iPad apps.

The 3-way revenue stream consists of:
1. Ineo Bio will get paid for taking in plant waste or possibly household garbage
2. The plant will produce electricity
3. The plant will produce ethanol, and presumably all at a huge savings in carbon dioxide output

Algae-based biofuels plant in Colorado.

C) The big question:

How competitive of a player are biofuels in the renewable energy market? What about the energy market? The opportunity for greater revenue is definitely an incentive for biofuels companies to expand, investors to underwrite this expansion, and to potentially transform our energy infrastructure (given costs at a competitive low).

However, there are still challenges, mostly pertaining to cheap oil, cheap coal, and rising agricultural prices. Biofuels are derived from several different resources, further complicating the question of viability. Ethanol is most commonly made from sugar cane, corn and potato. And cellulosic ethanol is becoming a more popular ethanol derivative.

Society always responds to prices— when oil prices rise, people look to alternative forms of transportation. But given that all of these energy sources—oil, coal, and agriculture prices are rising, what does the future holds for biofuels? I can't say. What's key here is that the biofuels plants are becoming inventive in maximizing their profits. Where there is great revenue potential, there will be growth.

And on a similar note, I am also a fan of plasma-gasification.
See previous article: "Plasma-gasification" 12/22/08

Comments

  1. I read your plasma-gasification article and thought it was very interesting--I had never heard of that before. This seems like a feasible option aside from the cost, which would probably be reduced as it becomes more widespread and/or subsidized by the government, as corn-for-ethanol (and everything) is. I'm pretty strongly against biofuels like corn and wood--they're awful for the environment, compete with food, and we have enough deforestation problems already without using wood for transportation fuel. But this plasma-gasification stuff seems pretty cool.

    I think you may know, I think the super solution is algae. It's perfect: completely renewable, takes up little space, not used for food, coal plays no part (even for wind turbines, coal is used to make the steel! I'm working on a blog post about this), there's no mining as there is with coal, natural gas and for metals used in most solar panels.

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