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The Biofuels Update

January 9, 2009
Yesterday I was sitting around wondering what I was going to write about today, searching for inspiration, when it hit me -- I'll ask my twitter friends!  So I posted, "looking for the latest, greatest, hottest, info/news on biofuels."

And that's where the ideas came from for today's post -- Thanks to @EpicBear and @tomkimmerer for your suggestions, I really appreciate them.

Biofuels Digest reports that confirmation hearings,
begin next Tuesday for Energy Secretary-designate Dr. Steven Chu, and for Lisa Jackson, president-elect Obama’s nominee to head the EPA.

and that,
... speculation has commenced on potential DOE appointees to critical positions in the Department of Energy under Dr. Steven Chu. Names heard by the Digest include:

Deputy Secretary: Obama transition team members Susan F. Tierney or Jason Grumet. Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: Maura O’Neill, Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) chief of staff.

Here at BIO we were excited about the appointment of Dr. Steven Chu.  Now we'll just have to stay tuned and see what happens next.

Next on the agenda, in case you missed it, food vs. fuel may be a non-issue, at least according to a new study published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy by researchers at the University of Illinois.  Nick Chambers of gas 2.0 writes in his post, Ethanol Made from Grasses Reduces Greenhouse Gasses,

The problem with using corn, and other annual crops such as sugarcane, is that they need to be replanted every year. This repetitive working of the soil creates a carbon deficit that can take years to build back using the best management strategies available and in the meantime you’ve released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than you’re trying to save by using biofuels in the first place.

On the other hand, the researchers found that perennial grasses like miscanthus, switchgrass and native prairie grasses, have a small initial carbon release associated with planting, but after that they start acting as a carbon sink very quickly.

So, in terms of dealing with climate change, if we’re going to turn to biofuels as part of our energy mix in the future, it looks like perennial grasses are the hands-down winner.

So let's get going! According to Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Industrial & Environmental Section,

“There are more than 30 existing and planned cellulosic biorefineries set to begin production of advanced biofuels in the next few years. Many other projects and promising technologies are on the drawing board. These pioneer cellulosic biofuel facilities will prove that the technology works and that the industry can meet the goals established in the Renewable Fuel Standard. With oil prices set to rise again, per the projections, the need for domestically produced advanced biofuels should remain a priority for U.S. policymakers and consumers.”

And finally according to the New Energy World Network, "The biofuels industry is entering a new era according to a new report: 2008 Biofuels and the Impact on Chemicals, from SRIC."

Bob Davenport, author of the report, said, ‘While phase II biofuels may break the food/fuel conundrum, interestingly, it may actually tie chemicals and fuels closer together at least as far as deriving these two products from biomass. The technologies that may deliver new biofuels can also be applied to make “petrochemical” molecules - as well as other molecules, some new - from biomass.

Having said that, in my mind that can mean only one thing, and that's that renewable biofuels can create green jobs and contribute to a new energy economy.

Here's to a great 2009 everyone!