Saturday, November 29, 2008

Musings on Biofuels

A spatially explicit whole-system model of the lignocellulosic bioethanol supply chain: an assessment of decentralised processing potential which is authored by Alex J Dunnett, Claire S Adjiman and Nilay Shah, was published in the journal Biotechnology for Biofuels. It details factors needing to be considered when evaluating both the environmental impact and the economic feasibility of biofuel solutions. The paper notes that the current market for biofuels can be described as the application of fermentation processes to sugar and starch crops. The efficiency of these processes with respect to environmental concerns involves assessing the energy input needed to produce biofuel output, including a measure of CO2 emissions inherent to the processing of crops and production of biofuels. In addition, consideration needs to given to the diversion of land and food resources to generate ethanol.

The authors note that the next generation of pretreatment and fermentation technologies could relieve resource constraints by utilizing lignocellulosic biomass. This would include what is currently considered waste and would provide a secondary benefit to biofuel production- the transformation of waste into productive output.

However promising the waste transformation and increased output efficiency appears, I believe this approach should supplement a resource supply adjustment which is currently unavailable in the United States because of legal and political factors. The specific resource would be hemp and the conversion of land resources to its production should yield financial and environmental benefits while lessening U.S. dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels. Further articles will delve into the specific properties of hemp which make its useage likely to alleviate biofuel problems.

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