March 1, 2009

Sierra Club and Worldwatch: Gasification is a "Smart Choice" for Biofuels

In February of this year the Worldwatch Institute and Sierra Club jointly released a report that supports the continued development of cellulosic biofuels using thermochemical means. From the report...
“In the thermochemical platform, heat, pressure, chemical catalysts, and water are used to break down biomass in much the same way that petroleum is refined. Thermochemical technologies include gasification, fast pyrolysis, and hydrothermic processing. These technologies can be used to convert almost any kind of biomass into fuel, from grass to turkey feathers, giving them a potential advantage over biochemical technologies that rely on developing specific enzymes to break down specific plant matter."

Smart Choices for Biofuels maps a future path for biofuels to ensure that they are more environmentally and socially sustainable and that the use of renewable fuels for transportation contributes to the global effort to reduce global warming pollution. The steps proposed in the report include an accelerated transition to cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass and the use of more effective agricultural practices to decrease erosion and soil nutrient depletion. Further, the report specifically identifies advanced biofuels feedstocks as including “the organic material found in urban waste."

Here are several other excerpts from the report:
"Despite ambitious government mandates and strong financial support for the biofuels industry, so-called “first-generation” biofuels have raised a variety of economic, social, and environmental concerns. New information points to the urgent need for a major shift to more-advanced biofuels to prevent negative effects on the climate, land, soil, water, air, and rural economies."

"Nearly all studies on the role of biofuels in mitigating global warming and boosting energy security have concluded that “second-generation” (or “advanced”) biofuels, which rely on non-food feedstocks and offer dramatically improved energy and greenhouse gas profiles, are necessary to make wider use of biofuels feasible worldwide."

"Cellulosic and other advanced biofuels have a better fossil energy balance than do first-generation biofuels; that is, the amount of fossil energy required to make the fuel is much lower relative to the amount of energy gained in return, which can significantly lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions."

One of the report's major policy recommendations is to:
“Re-examine the renewable energy portfolio balance to bring on cellulosic and other advanced biofuels faster and to promote biomass use for electricity generation and heat."

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