Is the Future in BioFuels?

By Shani Mandel-Laufer
Field seminar Course

Annual global human energy consumption is about 13 trillion watts. Each year, the earth receives an estimated 100,000 trillion watts of solar energy. This means that an hour’s worth of global sunlight could potentially meet a year’s worth of human energy needs. A large portion of this solar energy is stored, via photosynthesis in lignocellulosic biomass, which includes plants, grasses, trees and agriculture residues. This means that we can use switch our current polluting fuels, gasoline and diesel, used in our cars and industry today, for a fuel that is identical in performance and vehicle compatibility, with a much lower carbon footprint and associated contribution to climate change.

BioFuel is a type of energy derived from renewable plant and animal materials. Due to the concern about energy security and carbon dioxide emissions, BioFuels are seen as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The next generation of BioFuels derived from lignocellulosic biomass, which include plants, grasses, trees and agriculture residues, has the potential to reduce the U.S current annual consumption of gasoline and diesel by about half and significantly decrease the environmental impacts of energy use.

On our April 2017 field seminar, we visited one of the foundations that is trying to conduct a modern BioFuel, is Jbei –”Joint BioEnergy Institute”; a San Francisco Bay Area scientific partnership between Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Sandia National Laboratories, the University of California campuses of Berkeley and Davis, the Carnegie Institution for science & the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest. At the visit, we witnessed all phases of biofuel production: the laboratories where the plants are cultivated in the plants’ habitats, and the process of producing the fuel from them in the lab.

Over approximately the last decade there has been a growing interest in biofuels due to the rise in oil prices and the possibility of using some of the biofuels as oil substitutes, mainly for the purpose of fuel for transportation, which is required to have high energy density. But so far the Biofuel is still much more expensive than the fuels we are using today: gasoline, diesel and jet fuels. Jbei has succeed in reducing the cost of a gallon of BioFuel from 400,000$ to 6$ and soon it will get down to 4$. It is still much more expensive than the fuels that are used today, $2-$3 ( Without the cost-benefit it will be hard to replace the contaminating fuel in this minimum-effect on environment fuel. The public will not consume BioFuel if it is more expensive then the “regular” fuels, and it won’t be economically-competitive to produce it at a high-volume. Furthermore, OPEC is aware of attempts to produce fuel from oil shale, plants and others .They are interested in keeping the world dependent on their oil and therefore try as much as possible to lower the price of oil and thus prevent or at least delay the development of these other fuels.

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