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Biofuel – a critical assessment

  • by JW

From algae to maize – from greenwash to soil erosion


There are biofuels…. and there are biofuels:

“A decade ago, the green technology space was alight with the energy potential of algae. Fuel derived from algae, dubbed the ‘third-generation biofuel’, holds several key advantages over earlier feedstocks based on plant crops such as sugar cane and corn (the first generation of biofuel production) and vegetable or animal waste streams (the second).”

Algal biofuels challenges and opportunities: the long road ahead

Here are a couple of paragraphs from a rather critical view of the forays into biofuel from Andrew Schwarz writing in the latest Baffler: .

Oil Springs Eternal
How ExxonMobil sold us climate complacency

“Those with power create knowledge,” wrote Emily Plec and Mary Pettenger in a 2012 study of ExxonMobil’s marketing practices. At the time, ExxonMobil was aggressively marketing its latest low-emission energy initiative, a venture into algae biofuels. Do not fear climate change, such ads, which carry on today, seemed to suggest. Our engineers are hard at work. As Plec and Pettenger saw it, ExxonMobil’s greenwashing coached “acceptance of a particular attitude toward history, ”effectively resigning the mainstream public to the incumbent energy regime, constraining efforts to imagine a future that does not, like the present, orbit around “ideologies of consumption”—and companies like ExxonMobil…

In 2009, an ExxonMobil vice president told the New York Times that large-scale commercial plants to produce algae based fuels were at least five to ten years away. In 2013, then-CEO Rex Tillerson confessed to Charlie Rose that a quarter decade was the realistic estimate. Currently, the company strives for “the technical ability to produce 10,000 barrels of algae biofuels a day by 2025.”

Oil Springs Eternal | Andrew Schwartz

Why Exxon Is Still Going Big On Oil |

There are alternative biofuels:

Bumper global rapeseed harvest forecast | Biofuels International Magazine

Bacteria Give a Boost to Biofuel Production | Technology Networks

Including in these parts:

Milk trucks being powered by cow dung in new trial – Devon Live.

And a lot of maize is being harvested around the Sid Valley – much of which will be used as biofuel:

Devon Biomass and Woodfuels Statement

One concern expressed by both the Soil Association and Committee on Climate Change is the practice of growing crops for the production of energy (it must also be noted that the benefits of biomass as a carbon neutral energy source are disputed). The key concerns are not only that land used for energy biomass ought to be used for food production, but that the most common energy crop – maize – causes significant damage to soils when inappropriately managed. In the absence of any effective regulation on the growing of maize, and in light of the public subsidies available for renewable energy which incentivises its cultivation, significant concern has been expressed that this is a practice which urgently needs to be reviewed.

Maize – A Dartmoor blog

The field is indeed full of controversy:

Issues relating to biofuels – Wikipedia

Biofuels – What are they and why are they controversial?

Critics of Biofuel Have It Wrong – BIO

The Dirty Truth: Some Biofuels are More Polluting than Fossil Fuels |

Soil Association warns against use of maize for biofuel production | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT

The Energy 2020: Joe Biden’s ethanol push to woo Iowa farmers sets up tension with environmentalists – The Washington Post

photo: File :East Devon Way through the maize, near White Cross, Ottery St Mary – – 204956.jpg – Wikimedia Commons