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Are Wood Based Biofuels a Suitable Alternative to Fossil Fuels?

Wood based bio fuel is considered far more sustainable than the traditional corn equivalent yet it is not widely produced in Canada or the United States due to the high associated costs.

The University of British Columbia has recently released a report which shows how significant production savings can be achieved, which if successful could enable wood based bio fuels to become a commercially competitive alternative to traditional fuels by as soon as 2020.

The industry currently relies heavily upon government investment and the majority of projects in operation are on the smaller scale. However large scale production can lead to significant operational cost savings and help the industry make the necessary improvements to compete and survive without government support.

"As industrial production increases, cellulosic ethanol (wood based ethanol) is likely to become more competitive with corn ethanol for a share of the renewable fuels market," Jamie Stephen, a PhD candidate at UBC and lead author of the study, said to sciencedaily.com.

 One of the biggest production costs in the process of producing cellulosic ethanol is the enzymes required to breakdown the wood. However as demand for bio fuel increases the production scale will increase, causing more investment into improving the technology and reducing the cost of the enzymes.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act in the United States requires that 117 billion litres (31 billion gallons) of ethanol be added to gasoline annually by 2022. In Canada, the federal government mandates that gasoline must include five per cent renewable fuel content. This preset requirement ensures that demand for bio fuel is going to increase rapidly.

“Wood-based biofuel creates fewer greenhouse gas emissions and requires less water to produce. Cellulose, the main component of wood, is also the most abundant polymer on Earth and unlike the starch and sugars found in corn and sugarcane, people cannot digest it. Production of wood-based ethanol fuel doesn't use food supplies for fuel and competition for agricultural land can be reduced.” As reported by sciencedaily.com

"If you do a purely economic production cost comparison between wood and corn today, corn will be the lower cost option," says Stephen. "If we consider other factors, like energy security, the environmental impact and availability of resources, cellulosic ethanol becomes a more competitive option for Canada and the United States."

35 years ago Brazil made the decision to invest heavily in sugarcane ethanol. As will be the case with cellulosic ethanol, large amounts of government funding were required. However today Brazil runs flex-fuel vehicles on fuel up to 100% ethanol and the industry no longer needs the government subsidies.

By James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Morgan on January 13 2014 said:
    You could just pull the wood based products from the landfills. There! Many problems solved. Better fuel, less garbage in landfills, better environment, and no dying trees.
  • Morgan on January 13 2014 said:
    If you get the wood, and other wood based products such as paper and cardboard, from the trash-- which make up a large part of the US's garbage content-- it won't kill forests more than people throwing away the paper that killed the trees first. Besides, everyone makes garbage.
  • fireofenergy on January 22 2012 said:
    No! No matter how efficient, we would have to literally devastate entire forests in order to power even an advanced and highly efficient civilization.
    Solar, if mass produced in robotic factories, along with the LiFePO4 battery (or better) is about TEN x more efficient, still.
    Fossil fuels are hundreds of times more energy dense than the RE's, and todays nuclear is thousands of times more so than that... However, these are fraught with perils.
    Fortunately, closed cycle nuclear such as the molten salt reactor (LFTR) or molten metal reactor (IFR) is some 100 x more efficient than even today's dangerous water reactors, and thus, spit out less wastes.
    It's ONLY downfall is the fact that it would eliminate many orders of magnitude of profit from the power industry. LFTR could power many full blown populations without the need to strip Earth of resources and advance humanity into becoming a true space based race.

    All we need is carbon, some metals, some "spent fuel" for LFTR initiation... and, of course, seeds, everything else will be made from these basic, non Earth threatening elements (and massive amounts of electricity!

    It's a shame, though...
    Conspiracy and greed have the same ends.

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