The Biofuels Offensive

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The Biofuels Offensive

There is a quiet revolution taking place. Most people are unaware that one-sixth of the energy produced in the world today — and a third of all new energy being introduced — is from so-called alternative sources. Those include wind and solar energy, and even some fuel cell technology.

But, perhaps the biggest and most exciting of the alternative energy sources are so-called biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. So far, this technology is operating on a relatively small scale, with countries like Brazil taking the lead.

But the ramp-up is poised to happen quickly. According to the Wall Street Journal,1 by 2017, the United States could produce 39 billion gallons of biofuel at $1.25 a gallon or less on 19 million acres of land. By 2030, we could be using 49 million acres to produce 139 billion gallons.

Since the nation uses about 150 billion gallons of gasoline a year, all of its motor vehicle fuel needs could be met from a combination of biofuels and domestic production from existing oil fields. Brazil set an example in recent years with its switch to ethanol derived from sugar cane.

This is due in large part to the so-called green revolution that began in the 1950s and has transformed agricultural worldwide. New crops, fertilizers, pesticides, and processing methods have made nearly every form of agriculture exponentially more productive.

And, even as we deploy the enormous breakthroughs made to date, we’re poised to make another giant leap. According to a report by RTE News,2 the world currently uses more than 12 billion acres of land to grow food for 6 billion people, and yet some people still starve.

With new and emerging technologies, we could soon deliver both food and energy a lot more efficiently than today. In fact, the Copernicus Institute estimates that we could grow all the food for 9 billion people on just two and a quarter billion acres of land by 2050 if we use more efficient processes to do so. That would leave over nine and three-quarter billion acres for growing biofuel materials, which would eliminate the current debate about fuel competing with food.

With low-cost, high-volume methods for producing the raw material available, we can move on to the question of how to cost-effectively turn the energy captured from the sun by plants into fuel for our vehicles.

Currently, the focus has been on using ethanol as a substitute for gasoline to power our cars. But the process of growing and processing corn to make ethanol is expensive and it causes pollution...

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