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Second Generation Biofuels

by Colman Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 04:35:13 AM EST

A good summary of the European position from Euractiv.com today

Challenges:
  • Cost: Relatively high production costs (currently higher than those for both mineral oil-based petrol and conventional bio-ethanol) mean that second-generation biofuels cannot yet be produced economically on a large scale.
  • Technological breakthroughs: Key developments are needed on enzymes, pre-treatment and fermentation in order to make processes more cost- and energy-efficient. Biotechnology could offer a solution by offering the opportunity to change the characteristics of feed materials for fuels.
  • Infrastructure needs: The commercialisation of second-generation biofuels will also necessitate the development of a whole new infrastructure for harvesting, transporting, storing and refining biomass.
  • There are concerns from the environmental NGOs:
    Green NGO Biofuelwatch laments the lack of discussion regarding the sustainability of second-generation biofuels. "The serious risks which GM crops and technologies pose to biodiversity appear have been ignored, even though second-generation technologies will depend on widespread use of GM crops and trees, as well as GM microbes and fungi, which pose serious risks to ecosystems and are likely to cross into food production via cross-pollination."
    Why would GM be needed here?


    Display:
    Will even the second generation be of any real use to the EU?
    by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 04:36:10 AM EST
    Presuming second-generation biofuels include trees, then I would say yes.  There seem to be significant chunks of the EU which, due to climactic or geographic reasons, are much more suited for growing trees than anything else, and it's not likely that there's a whole lot of room for the existing food agriculture base to convert over to crops for first generation biofuels.

    Europe's probably a bit better at growing pine trees than sugar cane.

    by Zwackus on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 08:33:59 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    ... effective uses of wood for biomass than biofuels.

    See enginer poet's description on the Oil Drum of direct conversion to charcoal for higher energy efficiency, with re-use of the CO2 emissions downstream of the direct carbon fuel cells for even more immediate recycling of CO2.

    The primary argument in favor of biofuels is that we have an existing motor vehicle fleet that runs on liquid fuels. However, that is a short and medium term argument ... for the long term, the different bioregions of the world should have the vehicle fleet that fits the renewable energy sources and actual transport needs of the region.


    I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

    by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 10:42:34 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    The deployment of 1st gen biofuels have come to a screeching halt here in Sweden, due to this summers increase in prices of wheat etc. It seems the biofuel-food sword cuts both ways. Thank god. Only 100-200 million euros were wasted in that mad experiment.

    1st gen biofuels belong in the tropics. The Swedish ethanol companies yesterday said they had been buying land in Mocambique...

    Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

    by Starvid on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 01:14:55 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I haven't had time to go into this in any detail, but a priori there is no need for GM crops. Presentations of 2nd-generation (cellulose-based) biofuels I have seen don't mention this. They speak of forestry by-products, of coppiced wood plantations, and of graminaceous plants eg switchgrass, that can use marginal land.

    But of course, the agro industry is always a jump or two ahead, and their agenda includes forcing the issue on GM crops. They are quite capable of arguing that GM crops are necessary (they are already doing so re 1st-generation agrifuels), and even of guiding R&D towards an inescapable fit between certain types of GM crop and the chemistry of the industrial procedures used to obtain fuels. (Ie, this or that wonderful procedure will only work with a specially-conceived GM feedstock).

    by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 05:00:51 AM EST
    Forgot to quote:

    Biotechnology could offer a solution by offering the opportunity to change the characteristics of feed materials for fuels.

    That means that's what they intend to do, and they're working on it.

    by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 05:03:25 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    certianly.. no need for GM... but epppp another excuse to use it...

    Secon-generation biofuels is the last hope of the car industry if they want to keep "burning" stuff insode the car.. toehrwise... elecric/hydrogen or die...

    A pleasure

    I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

    by kcurie on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 06:31:15 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    2nd generation biofuels could also be used to power fuel cell engines (see this old WashMonthly article).
    by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 06:38:19 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    With regard to the necessity to use GM for the resource (switchgrass or whatever) I agree. But I thought that GM was mainly used for processing. Is there a better way to do the processing mechanically?
    by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 06:42:23 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    ... engineered feedstock crops, so that a large corporation can own a patent on a variety of biofuel feedstock that produces enzymes or some other factor that is relied upon by whatever low-heat method used to break down cellulose.

    That's about corporate agriculture sucking as hard as it can on the government-created IP-monopoly teat.

    Genetic engineering of microbes to do a more cost-effective job of breaking down cellulose to simple carbohydrates than is possible with the direct manipulation of enzymes, that's more likely to be done by a start-up that ends up making some venture capitalist rich ... its not likely to line the pockets of the likes of Archer-Daniels.


    I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

    by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 10:48:07 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Yes. Another reason not to have patents on life.

    However, there are in fact such start ups which might end up making some VC rich, working on GM microbes. Is the GM aspect unavoidable there; is it problematic in the first place?

    by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 11:16:35 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Now I aint no physical scientist (I don't even play one on the Internet), but it may well be that genetic engineering is required for microbial alternatives to a pumps and tubes enzyme approach to breaking down cellulose (it may be misleading to say "alternative to an enzymatic approach", because its enzymes that the microbes would be using).

    One primary difference between microbial GM and crop GM is that genetically engineered microbes can be engineered to require a specialized environment, making them a step down in terms of danger of uncontrolled proliferation than GM crops, which by necessity have to be able to survive in the outdoors.


    I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

    by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Sep 14th, 2007 at 02:48:21 PM EST
    [ Parent ]


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