The price of biofuels

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I've long been a fan of Technology Review, MIT's magazine, but it is really hitting another stride recently. I just caught up on a couple of past issues I picked up at the Clean Tech conference and found a gem of a story you should read if you want to be able to converse about biofuels with authority.

This is the link. Among its points:

* Corn ethanol, the kind of ethanol the US can best produce, sucks. This isn't news, but the story gives ample evidence why. Such as: There's not a lot of energy gain in producing it, corn production adds methane and nitric oxide (two GHGs) to the atmosphere, and devoting every ear of corn in the nation to biofuels would still displace only 12 percent of gas consumption. Meanwhile, of course, there would be no corn to eat.

* There's a lot of talk about cellulosic ethanol, but writer David Rotman (also TR's editor) points out that no commercial facility yet makes it, and plenty of science needs be done before it is profitable. Too, cellulosic biomass won't exactly be free, and it will require significant infrastructure to get it from field to factory.

* A couple of companies in California are say they're working on ways to produce biofuel in the form of long-chain hydrocarbons, which is what are in gasoline, compared to two-molecule ethanol. To do this, they'll need to genetically engineer microbes.

Very worth reading; I went back a second time with an underliner, but that may be a reflection of me as well as of the article.


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