Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Are We Doing Wrong with Biofuels?

My friend sent me this article on how biofuels are responsible for a 75% increase in world food prices.

My response: This is what happens when you live in denial for 100 years, and establish an infrastructure around a fuel source that doesn't really "exist" (the sun is the only "real" energy source we have, but that's another discussion). When it starts to run out, everything destabilizes, which is what we are seeing. The obvious choice, which is not always the best choice, is to look for the most accessible, drop-in renewable alternative .

What are doing wrong with biofuels?

1. We're making the wrong fuels.

Ethanol has been the biofuel of choice by many, which is a ridiculous fuel. It takes a lot of energy to distill it, and the resulting fuel has a miserable energy density. There are far better ways to get fuel from plants, unfortunately most are not usable by gasoline cars (see #3)

2. We're making them in a reactive and irresponsible way.
Since we haven't built up an infrastructure that produces biofuels in a responsible and distributive way, the only alternative is to utilize the same resources that have been devoted to producing food. The government is now throwing tons of money at farmers to produce ethanol. If anything, it's easier for them because there are fewer regulations.

3. We're using them incorrectly.
Cars that carry their own power plants (gas/diesel engines) are only about 7% efficient. "Real" energy sources can't be held responsible for producing the amount of energy we traditionally waste. We need electric cars and trucks. Electric vehicles leave the energy conversion process to centralized power plants, where it makes sense to invest the money to make very efficient processing. Furthermore, a wide variety of energy sources can be brought into play, and even mixed, at a powerplant (solar, hydro, petroleum, wind, etc.). This gives you a more flexible infrastructure, so we can be opportunists as different energy sources rise and fall in their availability.
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