Bug’s Opinion: Second generation of biofuels

Many considered hopes are now being pinned on the second generation of biofuels. The introduction of the first generation of biofuels was seen by the production of sugar cane, starch and oils of food crops as biofuels and although they very much economically viable limiting factors have reduced them to being inefficient in the long run. However the second generation of biofuels promises more efficiency, although costs are yet to be considered. Cellulose from agricultural and urban waste, wood chips and other non-food biomass sources promises these ideas.

This cellulosic biomass would either undergo enzyme hydrolysis into sugars for fermentation into alcohol, or Firsher-Tropsch gasification into synthesis gas for processing by catalysis into liquids that could be used to make fuels or even feedstock. It is no doubt that this generation will create a much bigger impact towards stopping global-warming and we will become less dependent on fossil fuels. However there are many uncertainties relating to the economical viability and environmental compatibility. To do so this will require a much greater effort from government subsidies and financial supporting parties.

It is very important that this generation of biofuels plays a huge role in mitigating climate change. For any technology to do so it is important that they have the potential to become commercially available within the next 10-20years; unless the emission of green house gases reduces or technologies or a policy is introduced to shift to a low carbon society, a mass extinction event would be unavoidable. It must be proved that they have the potential of reducing large-scale emissions at global levels, once life-cycle emissions of all greenhouse gases have been considered but yet to be done so at micro-level. If this technology directly or indirectly destroys ecosystems which play an essential role in the Earths carbon cycle then its risk is accelerating and not extenuating global warming. However there is no substantial evidence that the second generation biofuels will satisfy either criterion. These technical barriers must be overcome in the foreseeable future. Much of the cellulosic ethanol investment is going into genetic engineering without any risk assessment in place. At the same the Fisher-Tropsch Biodiesel gasification is facing different hurdles. Although many hopes by scientists and politicians are being set on this future generation, there has been no assessment of the consequences of using large amounts of biomass from ‘plant-waste’. Perennial crop plantations on food production on ecosystems, global greenhouse gasses, soil fertility or water supplies have not been accounted for. We yet, wait for evidence proving the large scale second generation of biofuels is either, sustainable or environmentally friendly.

22 notes   -  25 August 2011
22 notes
tagged as: biofuels. science. opinion. second generation of biofuels. cellulose. carbon cycle.

  1. lalarukhharis posted this