Biofools? – Creating biofuel value in a multifaceted world
July 8, 2008
Biofools is a term currently being used in public discourse to describe leaders supporting contemporary biofuel technology. Agrofuels (first generation agriculture-driven biofuels) have this spurred environmental and social backlash. Destruction of natural resources and famine has been realized by the hand of agrofuels. Becoming privy to the work being done by Almuth Ernsting has given me new thoughts about which technologies we choose to fund and implement with respect to agrofuels. Additional considerations regarding environmental and social issues beyond energy production must be viewed with a more focused lens before technological implementation.
The Gallagher Report released by the Renewable Fuels Agency last week has called for employment of the European “precautionary principle” with respect to agrofuels in England. In short, Gordon Brown is expected to bring about a slowdown of first generation biofuels to determine sustainability. Some fuels derived from sugar cane and animal fat are considered “sustainable,” but what does this mean exactly, and to whom? Moratoriums on certain crops are not out of the question, however, and there will be an upcoming clash with the US.
Ernsting believes that this slowdown is not sufficient, and that a total moratorium on biomass-derived liquid fuels should be enacted. He states:
“…biofuels from agricultural and forest residues that should be returned to the natural cycle because they play an important role in maintaining soil fertility and bio-diversity. Biofuels from true waste, such as biogas from manure or landfill, or waste vegetable oil, are not agrofuels. Biofuels from algae are not agrofuels either.”
Many definitions of sustainability revolve around energy production efficiency and exchange, but other concerns are often not considered. One outstanding issue is the future use of GM plants and microbes to produce biofuels and the potential ecological impact.
Past science and society courses have told me that there is a lack of forethought with respect to biotechnology (we can do this, but should we really?) which leads to ethical dilemma. Is a moratorium too extreme an action at this point, or just what we need? Ethics tells us that the deontological argument is to respect our duty to planet earth and humanity to prevent deforestation and hunger. However, ideological contrary to this is our perogative to preserve the order of the contemporary earth, which requires energy. Teleology complicates these sentiments by guiding us to think that the lives of millions in starvation cannot outweigh our need for liquid gold. However, if oil reserves are completely drained without the necessary preparation, how many more will die?
This being the case, second and third generation biofuels will have bigger shoes to fill regarding public sentiment, research, and investment. Hopefully, slowing down production of first gen biofuels may divert more grants and investors their way. Cellulosic ethanol production is ramping up, and demonstration plants are being built by companies such as Mascoma. Some capital investments are aimed at procuring fuel technology without forethought to environmental and social impact. The fuels investors of the future must take this in mind because sustainability is a multifaceted problem in which energy in and out is not the only determinant of success.
To view the entire Gallagher Report, click here
Picture Source: http://blog.livedoor.jp/kiwahori/