Inventing the Biofuel Future – We Can Have Biomass for Fuel and Eat it Too

Originally delivered Oct 22, 2009
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Surrounded by a world filled with the fruits of innovation and invention, pessimists generally forget or ignore the role these forces are likely to play in the developing biofuel industry. For example, they cannot seem to imagine how economic profitability and environmental improvement can be combined in biofuel systems. They are also apparently unable to imagine how we can use our land resources much more efficiently to produce biofuels, while still feeding (actually overfeeding) everyone.

While specific technical breakthroughs are difficult to predict, the general areas in which inventions are likely to occur are much easier to forecast. Likewise, the likely areas of innovation are foreseeable. Assuming that the emerging biofuel industry will be required to fulfill both economic and environmental goals, we examine where invention and innovation are likely to occur in the cellulosic biofuels industry (emphasizing the so-called sugar platform). The likely ripple effects of invention in pretreatment technology are described as are the effects of innovation in crop production, using cover crops as an example.

The potential outcomes of such innovation and invention are frankly startling: less expensive food, abundant cellulosic biofuels, significant environmental benefits and less land needed overall to provide both food and fuel. The easiest (and most enjoyable) way to predict the future is probably to invent it.


Bruce E. Dale

Professor Dale is University Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and former Chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Michigan State University. In 1996 he won the Charles D. Scott Award for contributions to the use of biotechnology to produce fuels, chemical and other industrial products from renewable plant resources.   In 2007 he won...Read more

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