In this first post of the BIOFUEL UPDATE — a newly introduced feature of our blog — I write about how so called first generation biofuels such as corn ethanol that are derived from food crops or grown on land that otherwise would be used for food crops may be worse for global warming than burning gasoline is! This reconfirms in my mind the pressing need for the biofuel sector to move towards non-food biofuel crops that also are grown on marginal land; crops such as algae, switchgrass, jatropha etc.

In other news the Danforth Science Center in Saint Ls. MO gets $15 million in federal funds. Fedex announces plans to get 30% of its fuel from second generation non-food crop biofuels by 2030. OriginOil has developed a simpler and more efficient way to extract oil from algae.

Some Biofuels Worse Than Gas for Global Warming?

In some cases biofuels cause more global warming than fossil fuels. Scientists modeling the carbon dioxide impact from both types of energy source found that when ‘indirect’ emissions and critically the timing sequence of emissions are taken into consideration, some biofuels lose their green credentials. This is the conclusion reached by research, lead by Michael O’Hare of the University of California, in Berkeley, whose results were recently published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The author of the study Michael O’Hare was careful to stress that their research findings apply only to biofuels that are grown in locations where food might otherwise have been grown, such as Corn Ethanol that compare unfavorably with fossil fuels. “Biofuels that don’t compete with food for land are fine on this measure, such as ethanol that is produced from trash, or from ocean algae,” he said.

Michael O’Hare and his colleagues developed what they called the Biofuels Time Integrated Model of Emissions (BTIME) to assess the greenhouse-gas impact from both fossil fuels and biofuels over their entire lifecycle. In each case they studied how carbon dioxide emissions change over time, and how long-lived the carbon dioxide is. Until recently most scientists have compared only the direct greenhouse-gas emissions of fossil fuels and biofuels. However by comparing just the direct emissions much of the actual long term Global Warming impact of Corn Ethanol is overlooked.

For the maize ethanol (and presumably other Biofuels derived from food crops or crops such as Palm Oil that displace food crops) there is a large release of carbon dioxide initially, when forests and pastures are converted to grow replacement food (food that would have been grown where the new biofuel crop is growing).

Once carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere it takes a long time to leave. “It follows an exponential decay pattern, losing a constant percentage every year,” explained O’Hare. The sudden and early nature of the emissions associated with biofuels makes them more damaging than fossil fuels.

Danforth Science Center Gets $15M in Stimulus for Biofuels Center

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis will receive $15 million in stimulus money to establish a biofuels center, its largest award yet.

The Center for Advanced Biofuel Systems, led by Director Richard Sayre, will work to increase the thermodynamic and kinetic efficiency for plant and algal-based fuel production systems, the Danforth Center said Tuesday.

The Danforth center was one of 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (EFRCs) announced Monday by the White House in conjunction with a speech delivered by President Barack Obama at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences.

OriginOil Develops a Better Way to Get Oil from Algae

OriginOil, an algae biofuel company based in Los Angeles, has developed a simpler and more efficient way to extract oil from algae. The process combines ultrasound and an electromagnetic pulse to break the algal cell walls. Then the algae solution is force-fed carbon dioxide, which lowers its pH, separating the biomass from the oil.

Algae organisms are protected by a tough cell wall. That wall must be cracked – an energy-expensive process – to extract the oil. The challenge is to maximize oil yield by cracking as many of the algae cells as possible with the smallest amount of energy. In Algae rich solutions processed by this new method the Algae oil rises to the top for skimming and refining, while the remaining biomass settles to the bottom for further processing as fuel and other valuable products. Initial testing indicates that the new algae oil extraction process is simpler and more efficient than current systems, without requiring chemicals or significant capital expenditure for heavy machinery.

FedEx Plans to Use 30% Biofuels by 2030

By 2030, FedEx plans to obtain 30 percent of its fuel from biodiesel, ethanol and other second-generation biofuels.

The biodiesel would be derived from jatropha and the ethanol from switchgrass, said Fred Smith, CEO of FedEx, during remarks at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce avaiation forum, according to an article posted at the New York Times Web site.

Smith called it a “30 by 30″ initiative, adding that the benefits to the aforementioned types of biofuel is that they do not rely on edible feedstock, and for the most part they can be cultivated on marginal land.

© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.