Biofuels – the good, the bad, and the dirty

The basic premise of biofuels is that they emit less carbon than traditional fossil fuels. When biofuels are burnt, the gases are less toxic than fossil fuels, the handling and storage is safer, and there is a carbon sequestration credit that occurs when growing crops for the use of biofuels

Environmental Folklore

We all know that driving our cars around town creates a lot of GHG emissions that are not helping the global warming crisis. We know that burning fossil fuels for transport energy contributes to pollution and climate change. But does buying ethanol or biodiesel to fuel our cars actually mitigate any of the carbon emissions? Or is this simply another way for fuel producers to scam extra dollars from the concerned citizen’s wallet?

As with all of the topics we will discuss on this website, there is no easy answer as to what is the most environmentally friendly option for fuelling our energy-intensive world. Certainly our transport system is fossil fuel intensive, and searching for new ways to reduce carbon emissions produced by this large system is a start to creating a world that is sustainable (whatever that means). But as the environmental blogger Damian Carrington states; “there are good…

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Major Compelling Reasons for Thrust on Cellulosic Ethanol

Energy Matters

I have been asked by some friends regarding the compulsions for focusing so much on Cellulose when we can do the same in a much simpler manner at a much lower cost with other renewable materials like Sugar cane or corn grains. The reasons may be fairly obvious to many but I will try to capture all arguments together to drive home the point in this post.

1. Food versus Fuel Controversy:

This is the first and foremost reason for pursuing cellulose for ethanol over food based feedstocks like sugar cane or Corn grains. Carbohydrates present in Cellulose ( present mainly in wood, straw, and much of non-edible portions of plant kingdom) cannot be digested by humans. Therefore it doesn’t compete or interfere with food production.

2.Cost of feedstock:

There are two factors that bring down the cost of cellulosic feedstock. They are discussed below:

A. Yield Factor:

This is…

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Cellulosic Ethanol

Energy Matters

Current commercial processes for ethanol use sugar cane or Corn kernel which is a kind of starchy biomass. There are two major problems with these popular processes: One is that it competes with food crops which has led to controversial Food versus Fuel debate. Secondly, the cost of production is not competitive vis-a- vis gasoline. These are the reasons for shifting of attention to Cellulosic ethanol.

Challenges with Cellulose processing:

Breaking down plant biomass(cellulosic) is no easy task. Nature has taken millions of years to evolve to make them hard and recalcitrant. This means they have tremendous resistance to natural forces like attacks from bacteria, fungi, insects, extreme weather etc. Therefore breaking cellulose to fermentable sugars is the primary challenge for the researchers in this area. In any bio process to make ethanol, one has to make easily fermentable sugars as the critical step. Cellulosic biomass also contains sugars but…

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