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Ethanol hasn’t had it this bad since the 1920’s. The flawed fuel of the future has seen a steady stream of criticism in the past — what with being unsustainable, underpowered, and overly needy — but this week saw the publication of several articles lambasting the unconscious and uncaring development of Big Biofuels.

I’ve been telling people for a while now that a lot of people in the Clean Technology space are going to lose their shirts on ‘dumb biofuels.’ What exactly are dumb biofuels? They’re one-dimensional, wasteful, inflexible, resource-hungry and tech-heavy fuels such as corn-, palm- and soy-based ethanol and biodiesel.

These fuels lack innovation and instead, rely on the outdated and outmoded model of big business: Maximize production, gobble up subsidies, outprice the competition, outsource labor, sustain profitable demand, and screw social, environmental and geoeconomic consequences.

Perhaps the best overview of the risks involved in the business-as-usual biofuels approach was written by Eric Holt-Gimenez this past June for Global Research.

I cannot condone the development of ignorant fuel technology when there are so many more efficient, intuited fuels within reach and already available. If we ignorantly destroy our planet in an effort to supplement our wasteful and disproportionate consumptive behavior with a short-sighted alternative to petroleum fuel, we’ve really missed the point of sustainable development and clean technology. We need to pull our consumption, as well as our innovation and development, into check.

I urge everyone to read these reports and to think hard about what it is we’re trying to achieve in producing future biofuels.

First off, I see biofuels as a way of re-routing waste streams, run-off and surplus into a sustainable, closed-loop system.

Secondly, biofuels should be grown on infertile land (or in overly-fertile water) and work to restore damaged ecosystems, instead of depleting or damaging immaculately fertile land, such as in the Midwest United States.

Thirdly, intelligent biofuels and feedstocks should be flexible, both in nature and in production. This means that one feedstock can be made into several different biofuels or biofuels compononets. Conversely, individual biofuels should be capable of breaking into separate, useful components as well as mixing with and contributing to various other fuels.

A biofuel that can achieve these properties deserves to be called ‘flexible’, not the genetically modified, corn-based e85 that flows into the SUVs of our nation at 40 gallons an acre.

Curtiss P. Martin
Editor — Clean Technology


This Week’s Top Stories

  1. Cap-and-Trade Bill Due Soon
  2. Improved High-Energy Density Capacitors
  3. Financing Plan Helps New Yorkers Acquire Solar Energy
  4. Miscanthus Bests Switchgrass, Researchers Find
  5. D1 Oils, BP Form Joint Venture to Grow Jatropha for Biodiesel


Cap-and-Trade Bill Due Soon

Two key members of the U.S. Senate’s environmental policy committee are teaming up on climate change legislation, hoping to unveil a bill by early August that could serve as the breakthrough needed to enable a new climate policy to move forward in Congress.

The effort by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) and John Warner (R., Va.) — respectively the chairman and top Republican on a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on global warming — is significant because it brightens the outlook for major climate-change legislation by setting the stage for a potential bipartisan compromise.

“This could be a real breakthrough,” said Clean Air Watch President Frank O’Donnell, noting that Warner hasn’t previously backed specific global-warming legislation before. “He [Warner] could provide the crucial margin for moving legislation forward.”

Read this story from the Wall Street Journal for more details

Improved High-Energy Density Capacitors

North Carolina State University physicists have recently deduced a way to improve high-energy-density capacitors so that they can store up to seven times as much energy per unit volume than the common capacitor. High performance capacitors would enable hybrid and electric cars with much greater acceleration, better and faster steering of rockets and spacecraft, better regeneration of electricity when using brakes in electric cars, and improved lasers, among many other electrical applications.

A capacitor is an energy storage device. Electrical energy is stored by a difference in charge between two metal surfaces. Unlike a battery, capacitors are designed to release their energy very quickly. They are used in electric power systems, hybrid cars, and all kinds of electronics.

The amount of energy that a capacitor can store depends on the insulating material in between the metal surfaces, called a dielectric. A polymer called PVDF has interested physicists as a possible high-performance dielectric. It exists in two forms, polarized or unpolarized. In either case, its structure is mostly frozen-in and changes only slightly when a capacitor is charged up. Mixing a second polymer called CTFE with PVDF results in a material with regions that can change their structure, enabling it to store and release unprecedented amounts of energy.

Read this article from Science Daily for more details

Financing Plan Helps New Yorkers Acquire Solar Energy

groSolar announced a new plan enabling New Yorkers to bring solar energy to their homes for a nominal increase to their daily utility cost. The financing program, available immediately, will allow New Yorkers to buy a solar electric energy system for their home for as little as 50 cents per day more than their current utility power supply.

Coupled with incentives offered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and applicable federal and State tax credits, rebates to create this new low-cost program for New Yorkers wanting to go solar would become a lot more affordable.

This program will enable homeowners to upgrade their home with a clean, solar electric system that would be connected to the homeowner’s existing utility system, thereby reducing peak load demand, reduce dependence on conventionally generated electricity, and expand the renewable generation market.

The special pricing and financing program is available on three groSolar power systems: 2,040 watts, 3,400 watts and 4,590 watts.

Read this story from Renewable Energy Access for more details

Miscanthus bests switchgrass, researchers find

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have presented research from a two year study that shows the grass Miscanthus—experimented with widely in Europe since the 1980s as a potential feedstock for biofuel—beats North America’s switchgrass.

At the annual meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists in Chicago this week, researchers showed data illustrating that Miscanthus was twice as productive as switchgrass.

The group made direct comparisons of the biomass productivity of two C4 perennial grasses: switchgrass Panicum virgatum and Miscanthus x giganteus.

Results showed Miscanthus’ efficiency of conversion of sunlight into biomass was amongst the highest ever recorded.

Read this article from Inside GreenTech for more details

D1 Oils, BP Form Joint Venture to Grow Jatropha for Biodiesel

D1 Oils plc, a UK-based producer of biodiesel, plans to establish a Joint Venture with BP to create a business in Jatropha curcas: D1-BP Fuel Crops Limited.

Jatropha is a drought resistant, inedible oilseed bearing tree which does not compete with food crops for good agricultural land or adversely impact the rainforest. It grows in tropical and sub-tropical regions and produces high yields of inedible vegetable oil that can be used to produce high-quality biodiesel. Jatropha can grow on a wide range of land types, including non-arable, marginal and waste land.

Under the terms of the agreement, BP and D1 Oils intend to invest around US$160 million million over the next five years. D1 Oils will contribute their 172,000 hectares of existing plantations in India, Southern Africa and South East Asia to the joint venture and the joint venture will have exclusive access to the elite jatropha seedlings produced through D1 Oils’ plant science program.

Read this story from The Energy Blog for more details

Crazy-Fresh CleanTech Snizz

Seashore Mallow Seen as Biodiesel Source

Unlike soybeans and corn, which require annual plantings to feed the growing appetite for biofuels, the pink-flowered seashore mallow is both a perennial and a halophyte, or salt-tolerant plant, that grows in areas where other crops can’t.

While more than 20 countries are involved in saltwater agriculture projects for food crops, the idea of using halophytes as biomass for fuel is a recent development, said Dennis Bushnell, chief scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

"This is a revolution for agriculture as well as for energy," said Bushnell, who has been advocating the use of halophytes as fuel sources for more than a decade but has been unable to generate much interest among federal agencies.

Read this article from Physorg.com for more details

Nanospheres to Revolutionize Biodiesel Production?

Line up 250 billion of Victor Lin’s nanospheres and you’ve traveled a meter. But those particles — and just the right chemistry filling the channels that run through them — could make a big difference in biodiesel production.

They could make production cheaper, faster and less toxic. They could produce a cleaner fuel and a cleaner glycerol co-product. And they could be used in existing biodiesel plants.

"This technology could change how biodiesel is produced," said Victor Lin, an Iowa State University professor of chemistry, a program director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and the inventor of a nanosphere-based catalyst that reacts vegetable oils and animal fats with methanol to produce biodiesel. "This could make production more economical and more environmentally friendly."

The technology allows efficient conversion of vegetable oils or animal fats into fuel by loading Lin’s nanospheres with acidic catalysts to react with the free fatty acids and basic catalysts to react with the oils.

Read this press release from Iowa State University for more details