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Fuel and the Future: The Future is Not Perfect, But It's Pretty Close

June 25, 2008
Just this month IEA Bioenergy, released a report called, “Status and outlook for biofuels, other alternative fuels and new vehicles.
The report presents an outlook for alternative fuels and motor vehicles. The time period covered extends up to 2030. For anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the news recently, you know that fuel, particularly as it pertains to transportation is becoming more and more critical. And for each of us who owns a car, it becomes personal, when we pull up to the pump.
The very real impact of gas prices was brought home by a New York Times graphic earlier this month showing gas prices as they relate to family income.
We know these things are problems, so what to do? What is the outlook for going forward to 2030
The report predicts that if policies remain unchanged, that energy demand will increase by over 50%..
The report also says,
Next generation advanced biofuels are considered a promise for the future, on condition
that they can be processed from lingo-cellulosic crops that can be grown in poor soil
without chemicals. However, sustainable methods in biomass cultivation, harvesting, transportation as well as technological breakthrough in refining processes are needed
before commercialization of these next generation biofuels from non-food feedstocks
can take place. Waste materials could also be used as feedstock.

That is why it is critical that we begin investing now in second generation biofuels as part of the key to our future energy security and that of our children and grandchildren. The report says that fossil fuels are expected to remain a major energy source for decades, that they will come with more problems with each passing year. And, the transportation sector is almost completely dependent upon fossil fuels.

This is a statement worth calling out in quotes,
However, it is essential that
transport sector starts to prepare for a time without oil, or at least oil shortages. In
practice, for the transport sector this means finding the least bad options!

Then further down they go on to say,
As a summary, the best
options in terms of energy security could be as follows:
1. Gasoline and diesel from "difficult" oil resources (incl. unconventional oil)
2. Synthetic fuels from natural gas or coal
3. 2nd generation biofuels from biomass
4. 1st generation biofuels from biomass.
The first three options are completely compatible with the existing infrastructure and
vehicles. First generation biofuels may require vehicle modifications, if used at high
concentrations. Energy savings will reduce the amount of fuel needed, and thereby also
improve energy security.
Both 1st and 2nd generation biofuels contribute to energy security, although it is questionable
if all 1st generation biofuels are beneficial for GHG reductions and local emissions.

So if you look at the situation it seems that it is one big mess, with no absolutely perfect solution. However there are good options. And one of those is, to advance to second generation lignocellulosic biofuels, in a way that minimizes our carbon footprint and maximizes our energy security. And that is one tact that we should pursue.