Don’t look to Washington’s finest for credible energy and climate solutions. Legislation, perhaps. Our politicians spend a lot of their time appearing in dignified settings courtesy of the US taxpayer, meeting important (and not so important) people, shaking lots of hands, listening and talking, smiling and chatting amiably with one another like lovable, peaceable Smurfs.
So our politicos are good at face time. But they’re terrible at addressing our biggest problems. Like balancing the federal budget, reducing trade deficits, or curbing the runaway growth of the national debt (Good luck with that). Or winding up our military affairs in the Middle East. Securing our borders. Stopping the BP oil spill. Pulling out all stops for a cleaner environment and a greener energy economy. You get the point.
When you consider that the energy, economic and environmental problems we face are in many ways caused by buying, burning and spilling dirty energy sources (oil and coal), while being utterly [addicted] dependent on consuming both energy sources, it easy to see we’ve got a long way to go to renewable energy independence and a healthier natural world. And a short time to get there.
How far on the road to energy independence is the USA when it comes to next-generation biofuels? We’ve only just begun.
Consider the paltry 88 million gallons of biodiesel produced this year from animal fat mentioned in the quote below, and add the 10 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, then be generous and round it up to get 100 million gallons of “next-generation” biofuel capacity in 2010. This drop in the bucket represents an entire year of biofuel production beyond corn ethanol, which is currently about 12 billion gallons per year, and which is capped at 15 billion gallons per year.
100 million gallons of next-generation biofuels produced this year? Big whoop. Americans burn 378 million gallons of gasoline a day, according to EIA. That’s 138 billion gallons a year.
“Next-generation U.S. biofuel capacity should reach about 88 million gallons in 2010, thanks in large measure to one plant becoming commercially operational in 2010, using non-cellulosic animal fat to produce green diesel. U.S. production capacity for cellulosic biofuels is estimated to be 10 million gallons for 2010, much less than the 100 million gallons originally mandated for use by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act. In early 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the cellulosic biofuel mandate to 6.5 million gallons, more in line with production prospects.”
“Developing the capacity to use multiple feedstocks and to produce biobased fuels that are equivalent to fossil fuels that can be used in current vehicles without limit and distributed seamlessly in the existing transportation sector may become the least risky business model to pursue.”
May 2010 USDA report “Next-Generation Biofuels Near-Term Challenges and Implications for Agriculture“
Meanwhile, back in realityville:
Who’s making plans for renewable fuel production in hometown America? Who’s laying the business and technology foundation to develop advanced biofuels near you? Look around and you’ll see plenty of waste and biomass resources that could make water soluble, biodegradable fuel for a global marketplace. Look a bit further and you’ll see an opportunity to make an energy product the entire world needs and almost nobody makes yet: Cleaner fuel from stuff nobody wants.
Your trash, along with your neighbor’s trash, and non-crop biomass, is a constantly replenishing stream of renewable energy resources that can be converted into valuable mixed alcohol fuels. Think big here, there’s plenty of trash and biomass, and plenty of coal, coal fines, petroleum coke, or flare gas and methane.
Right now it’s just more municipal solid waste headed to the landfill or incinerator to make marginal amounts of electricity at best. Just another day in a status quo that no longer quite serves.
America doesn’t just need national legislation to support clean energy investment and promote a cleaner environment, it needs committed people in America’s cities and economic regions, armed with cleaner fuels technologies to convert what’s currently viewed as waste into dollars and sense. Waste, like politics, is local. And so is green energy.
Enough excuses. Let’s make cleaner fuels the world can use. What’s beyond dirty petroleum? Clean mixed alcohols.