Entries tagged with “biofuels”.


So, Gabon’s president has decided to diversify the economy . . . from oil to palm oil.  You . . . have . . . got . . . to . . . be . . . joking.  First, you are trading one primary commodity for another – in other words, the economic problems of price instability and complete dependence on the consumption of others are not in any way addressed by this shift.  This is not diversification, this is retrenchment to a commodity that the British colonial government more or less stopped promoting in relatively nearby Ghana by 1920!  And don’t tell me about biofuels – palm oil suffers from the same problems as nearly every other form of biofuel, in that it is at best carbon-neutral in and of itself, but requires energy to be converted to usable fuel . . . thus making it carbon positive (i.e. a net carbon emitter).  The market for biofuels of this type is not really there yet, so this is not going to fly all that well.

Second, Gabon is home to a significant amount of high quality, old growth rainforest – home to all kinds of species not seen elsewhere, and part of the equatorial belt of rainforests that suck up 18% of annual global carbon emissions.  The last thing we need is to see Gabon trading this forested area for palm plantations.  One need only look to the situation in Indonesia, where this exact conversion is taking place, to see the kinds of fraud and environmental damage that this shift to a “benign” crop is creating.

Gabon desperately needs a new path to the future, but palm oil is not that path.  Oh, and BBC: some level of analysis that points out any of these issues would have been nice . . .

Well, the markets seem to have faith in biofuels – two companies working on this idea have filed for IPOs in the past week.  Both are interesting, though for different reasons.  Gevo is interesting not for its choice of source material (still using corn, wheat and sugarcane), but for the fact that it is turning these sources into isobutanol, which as Martin LaMonica notes

“can be used as a solvent, blended to make jet fuel or other liquid fuels, or used as a raw material for plastics or rubber.”

Diversifying the products that might come from cellulosic sources is very interesting, and hints at directions we might take toward a post-petroleum world.  The big drawback: they are still stuck using food crops as their source material for fuel.  Elsewhere on this blog I have noted that this sort of sourcing of our fuel has significant ramifications for the global food supply, taking out perhaps too much slack in a time of environmental uncertainty (let alone new economic tools in the commodities markets).

All this makes the other IPO filing, PetroAlgae, much more interesting.  They are working with algae as a source material for their fuel.  Algae doesn’t take up arable land, isn’t one of our current food crops, and can be grown in a wide range of environments.  If they can make this work, we might have something interesting there.

Let’s all remember, though, that biofuels don’t really fix the greenhouse problems our current development pathways are generating.  At best, biofuels are carbon neutral – carbon goes into the plant, is released when plant is converted to energy, rinse, repeat).  However, to get the plant to a state that works as a fuel requires energy – that energy has to come from somewhere, and therefore has a carbon footprint.  So biofuels may not be as bad as coal, but completely clean they are not.  The days of the guilt-free consumption of carbon-neutral goods derived from algae are not yet here . . .

Advanced biofuels maker Gevo files to go public via CNET

Algae fuel maker PetroAlgae files to go public via CNET