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US DOE Releases Roadmap for Cellulosic Ethanol

Mike Millikin, Green Car Congress
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has released a detailed research agenda for the development of cellulosic ethanol as an alternative to gasoline. The 200-page research roadmap—Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol: A Joint Research Agenda—resulted from the Biomass to Biofuels Workshop held in December 2005.

The roadmap identifies the research required for overcoming challenges to the large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol, including maximizing biomass feedstock productivity, developing better processes by which to break down cellulosic materials into sugars, and optimizing the fermentation process to convert sugars to ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is derived from the fibrous, woody and generally inedible portions of plant matter (biomass).

The roadmap responds directly to the goal recently announced by Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman of displacing 30% of 2004 transportation fuel consumption with biofuels by 2030. This goal was set in response to the President’s Advanced Energy Initiative.

The focus of the research plan is to use advances in biotechnology developed in the Human Genome Project and continued in the Genomics: GTL program in the Department’s Office of Science to jump-start a new fuel industry the products of which can be transported, stored and distributed with only modest modifications to the existing infrastructure and can fuel many of today’s vehicles….

(7 July 2006)

Biofuels, Petro-fuels = Liquid Fuels (Part One)

afew, European Tribune
…What’s also new is an uptick in the polemic that surrounds biofuels. Well, big deal (say you, perceptive reader), biofuels contribute no more than a tiny percentage of energy supply. Yes, but they’re liquid fuels, and that may be part of what the fighting is about.

Follow me beneath the fold for more.

Among renewable sources of energy, biofuels seem to spark the most controversy. Solar or tidal energy don’t attract too much adverse criticism, windfarms are attacked for supposed noise, unsightliness, and bird-kill issues, but the overall image of these renewables remains positive. Comparatively, biofuels are a slugging-match topic. Advocates and enemies make hugely contrasting claims. Opponents offer particularly scathing and disqualifying scrutiny.

Biofuels are liquid fuels; they can be (and are) used to run motor vehicles in conjunction with or replacement of, petroleum-based liquid fuels. You don’t have to think for long before wondering if, behind the polemics, there isn’t a fight for market share between the agri-industry and the petroleum industry. And there are elements that support that view.

…The automobile industry is highly unlikely to be neutral either. Without changing current engineering and marketing practices by much (and therefore without feeding in investment), it can allow biofuels to give it a green ‘n’ clean image, while claiming for itself a (very slight) reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. No need to go the fuel reduction route and have to change marketing strategy and production lines, biofuels will be the miracle fix.

The agri-lobby and the car industry lobby are powerful ones in both the US and the EU. But the oil industry shows every sign of gearing up to defend its profits.

…Is this just biofuel-bashing, or does it have any justification? Neutral information is not easy to find. Ballpark (but dependable) numbers from which to make a few calculations are not easy to find either. In Part Two of this diary, I’ll try to set out what answers I think (I hope) I have found.
(10 July 2006)
A fair-minded analysis of biofuels with links and references. This is the sort of article that should be (but isn’t) in the mainstream media and reports of government agencies. -BA

The Real Biofuel Cycles

Tad Patzek, UC Berkeley
Tad Patzek submits a response to the January Berkeley ethanol energy balance paper by Farrel and Kammen:

This paper analyzes energy efficiency of the industrial corn-ethanol cycle and brackets energy efficiency of the switchgrass-cellulosic ethanol cycle. In particular, it critically evaluates the publications by Farrell et al. (2006a; 2006b) and Shapouri, Wang, et al. (Wang, 2001; Shapouri et al., 2002; Shapouri et al., 2003; Shapouri and McAloon, 2004). It is demonstrated that in a net-energy analysis of the industrial corn-ethanol cycle (Farrell et al., 2006a; Farrell et al., 2006b) did not (i) define the system boundaries, (ii) conserve mass, and (iii) conserve energy…

With maximum theoretical yields, and the Dried Distillers Grains with Solids (DDGS) co-product energy credit, 3.9 gallons of ethanol displace on average the energy in 1 gallon of gasoline.

(10 July 2006)
Found via Cambrians for Thoughtful Development and Ted Trainer on ER.

Patzek recently colorfully referred to industrially produced corn ethanol as a form of “laundering fossil fuels” -AF

Ethanol won’t solve energy problems

AP, Yahoo! News
Ethanol is far from a cure-all for the nation’s energy problems. It’s not as environmentally friendly as some supporters claim and would supply only 12 percent of U.S. motoring fuel — even if every acre of corn were used.

A number of researchers, the latest in a report Monday, are warning about exaggerated expectations that ethanol could dramatically change America’s dependence on foreign oil by shifting motorists away from gasoline.

As far as alternative fuels are concerned, biodiesel from soybeans is the better choice compared with corn-produced ethanol, University of Minnesota researchers concluded in an analysis Monday.

But “neither can replace much petroleum without impacting food supplies,” the researchers concluded in the paper published in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences.

The paper said development of nonfood materials such as switchgrass, prairie grasses and woody plants to produce cellulosic ethanol would be a major improvement with greater energy output and lower environmental impacts.
(10 July 2006)

USDA Questions Sugar-To-Ethanol Profits

Farm Futures
Unlike our Brazilian counterparts, the current sugar program in the United States makes sugar not cost-effective as an ethanol feedstock.

A new study from USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist finds that ethanol made from sugar cane and sugar beets would cost between $2.35 and $2.40 per gallon in the U.S., while ethanol produced from corn costs only $1.03 to $1.05 per gallon.
(11 July 2006)