There’s a fine article by Jennifer Bogo in Popular Mechanics on where we stand with biofuels. First, she reviews the mistaken headlong rush toward corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel a couple of years ago. The story is now well-known: Both fuels take a lot of energy to produce, and when over 20 percent of the country’s corn crop and 13 percent of soy are diverted to the fuel sector, food prices go up.
Unfortunately, the backlash against using these feedstock crops for biofuel has been overdone, too, so that biofuels as a whole have taken a bad rap.
Bogo outlines efforts to make the next generation of biofuels viable. Two of the more promising paths will be cellulosic ethanol, made, as the name suggests, by breaking down cellulose compounds and extracting sugar from them, and biodiesel made from algae that feed on CO2. These technologies have not been brought to a scale that can make much of a dent in the immediate problem, but meanwhile scientists and engineers are bounding ahead with third- and fourth-generation technologies that aim to produce sugar-alcohol fuels like biobutanol and other “designer hydrocarbon” fuels.
The biofuel companies cited in Bogo’s article are as follows:
~ Doug Logan, New Energy Watch