From Biomass to Biofuel

For some time now sugarcanes and other plants, easily transformable to ethanol or oil refined to biodiesel, are helping to reduce cars pollution to a degree under the name of bio fuels. This neutral carburant still require energy to be produced but refineries can use for example molasses generated by sugar production from sugarcane to power the plant. This is a very good example of renewable energy but if we look deeper in the biofuel production industry development a new danger is coming.

Just like industrialized countries feed on low wages countries worker to keep cost down, biofuel industry is likely to focus on the same countries to setup plantation and refineries. Like the Chinese farmers who welcomed warmly big chemical plants in 2001 promising job for everybody and better life level many are seduced by the prospect and might regret after few years. This will have the effect to increase reforestation to clear the way to plantations and increase the price of what was once food commodities.

For example the leader of sugar market, Brazil, convert an important part of its production to bioethanol and caused in the past years a strong price increase on sugar. Let’s take a look now at Malaysia. They let wood pulp companies destroy their ecosystem and create enormous acacias forest without animal life due to absent biodiversity. Malaysia is also leaders on palm oil production that claim more space on natural forest and accentuate current damage to the ecosystem. This problem is also impacting rich countries as in Europe where wine and oil producers might be tempted to sale more to distilleries than consumers due to price advantage. The same apply to USA corn that could soon become too pricey to finish on your plate but maybe this will avoid you ingesting GMO.

The problem is that this frenzy on biofuel is very little for ecology sake but mainly a financial speculation. As Lester Brown from Earthpolicy.org explain much better than I this will bring only famine and not even enough to fuel 16% of the cars needs if technology does not improve.

Countries with excess of those goods should be the only one to focus on it under strong regulation to avoid speculation on food commodities and keep security stock.

Now some good news, Honda and Rite in Japan developed a new enzyme and process to produce bioethanol from leaves, wood and other biomass usually not efficient in fermentation process.Efforts in this direction will allow transforming waste in efficient biofuel without impacting our diet.

One more concern is carbon trapping as any biomass used for biofuel does not help fixing CO2…

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