(80b) Energy, the Wealth of Nations, and Human Development: Why We Must Have Sustainable Biofuels

Authors: 
Dale, B., Michigan State University

The rate of energy use (power consumption or rate of work done) is strongly predictive of both national wealth and the potential for human development.  Approximately 85% of current world energy use is from fossil fuel consumption, and roughly one third of that is from petroleum.  Peak oil arrived in 2005.  Peak coal and peak natural gas are yet to come, but they will come simply because they are not renewable. Thus, if more human beings, now and in the future, are to develop their potential, very large scale renewable energy systems are not just a “good idea”; they are essential.   

Among the renewable solar-driven energy systems, plant biomass is unique in being both the solar collector and the battery.  Plant biomass is also the only renewable source of reduced carbon and liquid transportation fuels or “biofuels”.  Thus biofuels are the only complete replacement for petroleum fuels. Some believe that biofuels are optional; that electrically-driven transportation will be adequate to meet societal needs. They are mistaken. High energy density liquid fuels from biomass are essential to support commerce and thus sustain the wealth of nations.  Since we must have biofuels, it will be more productive and much more enjoyable to focus our efforts on sustainable production of biofuels.  

This presentation describes our own work to produce cellulosic biofuels more sustainably by resolving the “food vs. fuel” issue while at the same time improving the logistics of cellulosic biofuel systems.  We do this by pretreating biomass using the ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX™) in a distributed system using local biomass processing depots.  AFEX pretreated -biomass is both a feedstock for biofuel production and a ruminant animal feed, thereby largely eliminating the “food vs. fuel” conflict.

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