Biofuels – more than you ever imagined

I’ve been sitting on my notes from several talks (BIGMAP especially), due to time constraints, but the one yesterday and today is extremely relevant:  Breeding Lignocellulosic Crops for the Bioeconomy, the 2008 Plant Breeding Lecture Series, is presented by the Iowa State University Ramond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding and the Plant Sciences Institute.

There hasn’t ben much talk of genetic engineering (these are plant breeders after all) but the insights into lignocellulosic biofuels were astounding. As I’ve said before, grain ethanol is the 1st generation of biofuel technology. Expected to be imperfect, it has paved the way for more efficient and more sustainable biofuels. 

The abstracts for each speaker at the conference are posted here. Feel free to take a look and let me know if you’d like me to focus on any particular one. Strangely, my overall favorite so far was the economist! On a related side note, I found an interview of Joe Fargione of the Nature Conservancy. His numbers differ a bit from the ones reported at the conference, but what I’m particularly interested in are his closing comments: So is there any place for biofuels in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and slowing climate change?

Joe Fargione: There is a role for biofuels. Although there is no silver bullet to solve climate change, there are many silver BBs.

Biofuels can be a silver BB if produced without requiring additional land to be converted from native habitats to agriculture. For example, biofuels can be made from waste from agriculture and forests, and from native grasses and woody biomass grown on marginal lands unsuitable for crop production.

We not only have to consider how we produce biomass, but how we convert it to energy. Producing liquid transportation fuels may not be the most efficient way to use the energy contained in biomass.

Multiple technologies currently exist that can economically convert biomass for heat, cooling and electricity. To make the best use of biomass from a climate change standpoint, we should consider these uses, not just producing liquid transportation fuel.

This is precisely what the scientists here at the Plant Breeding Lecture Series are talking about. Details to follow.