Biofuel: What's now -- and not!

Nor' east Thinkin'

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Published on: September 19, 2008

The longer you live, the more you realize that not everything lives up to its touted promise. I could be talking about politicians; but I’m not. (And to that, I’m sure you’ll respond “Thank, goodness! I’ve had my fill of politics!”

 

Thanks to Uncle Sam’s Renewable Fuel Standard passed in 2007, ethanol knocks 5 to 10 cents a gallon off gasoline prices. Then came the 2007 Energy Independence & Security Act which calls for 11.1 billion gallons of renewables to be used in 2009, and 12.95 billion gallons in 2010 – with specific mandates for cellulosic and biomass-derived biodiesel.

 

That’s why Uncle Sam is pouring billions of dollars into research and development of cellulosic and other biomass fuel research. I looked into a few of those R&D programs, and found a good chunk of change is being spent to promote (hype) the developers who hope to draw big-buck investors. Some of them couldn’t make a buck as oil and gold wildcatters in Alaska and the Yukon. And, near as I can tell, none have come up with systems that can economically produce biomass ethanol. As the 50-year old saying goes, “We’re only five years away.”

 

Those fuel mandates are less than five years away now. What happens if we hit 2010 and are still “five years away”?

 

Sneaking up on the outside . . .

 

Farmers and folks in the forestry business are more savvy about making things work and delivering on their promises. That’s why it’s exciting to watch biodiesel and solid biofuel projects going and growing in places like northwestern Pennsylvania, western New York and northern Minnesota.

 

They already know how to make biodiesel from crops – and are doing it. They already know how to make solid biofuel pellets – and are doing it. Europeans have been doing it for several years – at far lower capital costs.

 

Bottom line: Agriculture can sustain itself quite well with biodiesel, solid biofuel for heating, and maybe a windmill or manure-generated methane energy system.