Monday, January 19, 2009

Are Bio Fuels Truly Sustainable?

A lot of exiting things are happening in the world at the moment - and I'm not just thinking about the economic crisis. For some years now the climate situation has been on the agenda. The Kyoto Protocol put the negative effect of the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on the agenda and several countries committed to reducing carbon dioxide emission. Former vice president Al Gore managed to communicate the consequences of these emissions in his "Inconvenient Truth" in a way that everybody could understand. So now we are at the point where we know that we have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but how do we do it?

A number of challenges are facing us.

The clean technology race. A lot of different technologies are now effectively competing against each other for investments and customer attention. Photo voltaics, algae based bio diesel, 2nd generation ethanol from wood and agro waste, wind power and wave and tidal power and many more.

The sustainability dilemma. As it has turned out the initiatives that were taken to act, and to actually shift from petro-fuel to bio fuel ended by being pooh poohed - first by NGOs as the friends of the earth in their campaign against use of palm oil in bio fuels, due to the fact that palm oil plantations are replacing virgin rainforest. - and then at the top of the commodity price hike by the UK Gallagher Review that recommends less widespread usage of bio fuels due to potential negative environment effects, as well as undesirable competition towards food usage and in some cases questionable environmental effects.

It is not difficult to understand that many people are now confused and don't know how to act. We thought bio fuels were the way to go, now we are told that they are bad for the environment. This is however just a classical example of refinement of the solution as time passes.

Bio fuels were never THE solution. There is simply not enough land and resources to allow us to both produce the food that we need for 6 billion people AND at the same time replace all the petro-oil that we consume in the world. But bio fuels are also in the future a part of the solution, if the bio fuels are produced in a sustainable way: sustainable bio fuels are so called 2nd generation bio fuels. 2nd generation bio fuels are produced from what would otherwise be waste. A lot of these 2nd generation bio fuels are already here. They include wood and bark pellets made from sawdust and wood paste after wood processing, other bio material pellets made from various waste from processing of agricultural crops, straw, waste bio oils from industrial processing of food. And then there are the liquid bio fuels that we are all waiting for, because we will be able to run our cars on them: bio diesel from Jathropa oil, bio ethanol from agricultural waste as well as the exiting bio diesel from algae. In the case of Jathropa we are still waiting for somebody to grow the bushes that are going to give the oil, D1 Oils are busy developing this after they shut down their UK operation. In the case of bio ethanol the Danish companies Novozymes and Danisco are both busy developing the killer-enzymes that are going to make them rich. Bio diesel from algae, this is one I'm not so familiar with, however it is my impression that there are still a number of years before we will see commercial large scale plants.

So where is my Modern By-products Group. We are really concerned about the environment and it is our mission to utilise food and agricultural waste/by-products in the best way possible. In many cases the answer lies in bio fuels. We run our trucks on by-product fish oil and ethanol based bio diesel as well as many of our partner's trucks. We sell thousands of tons of 2nd generation liquid bio fuel for heating and electricity generation. We supply bio fuel to a power plant that has achieved the world's toughest ecolabel, the Swedish "Bra Miljöval".Personally I enjoy driving the SAAB 9-5 Biopower, which runs on any bio ethanol and gasoline mix, and actually gets more HP the more ethanol I add.

But as I said - a lot of exiting thing are happening in many different companies. My friend and former colleague Lars Jagd is heading the upcoming technology provider Stirling. Take a look at their offering, as this is really a cool alternative, if you want your own CHP plant. Another friend of mine is busy shaking up the Danish electricity market by offering green electricity, it will be interesting to see if the Danish consumer really cares.

I think that the solution lies in many different ways of intelligently using the resources that are available to us. Different technologies will be used in different regions and existing facilities can be used in new and more environmentally friendly ways.

No comments:

Post a Comment