I have been acknowledging the work of most scientists and their discoveries kept my interest awake to see what’s new every morning. It’s seldom times, though, when I read something like “the U.S. Energy Secretary congratulates DOE scientists for the discovery of a biomass-derived liquid that can be produced cheaply and can replace gasoline without any engine modifications,” I have to wonder…
Now this is something more or less intriguing, depending on which side you’re on: the petrol-heads or the electrifieds. The fact is that, indeed, Secretary Steven Chu was excited about the news that had been circling the world the last 24 hours. Isobutanol, a fuel that burns better than ethanol and has properties similar to gasoline, has been extracted out of materials like rice straw, corn stover, lumber wastes and biofuel-specific plants.
“America’s oil dependence-which leaves hardworking families at the mercy of global oil markets-won’t be solved overnight. But the remarkable advance of science and biotechnology in the past decade puts us on the precipice of a revolution in biofuels. In fact, biotechnologies, and the biological sciences that provide the underlying foundation, are some of the most rapidly developing areas in science and technology today – and the United States is leading the way. In the coming years, we can expect dramatic breakthroughs that will allow us to produce the clean energy we need right here at home. We need to act aggressively to seize this opportunity and win the future,” says Chu.
Ok, these are the words of a politician, but the reality is a bit more complicated than this. First, there’s the petrol market, always prepared for new and new hits, having monstrous earnings and interests for oil being extracted the old way, so it’s out of discussion, in my opinion, that we’ll replace gasoline by more than a few percents, which would only diminish the danger to our health and the net CO2 emitted by as much, also.
Secondly, biofuels traditionally need fertilizers and all kinds of equipments, harvesters and usable lands (along with the plants seeded on unusable one). I never stopped believing that if the interests were so big and the method of fabrication was so simple, someone wouldn’t have their share and buy all sorts of fertile lands to put their biofuel weeds on. That may be the biggest problem of all. Maybe not in the U.S., maybe not in Germany or France, but those poor people in Zimbabwe or some other under-developed countries, where politicians (sorry, I don’t mean someone specific and don’t want to offend anyone) are easier to corrupt and lands are easier to harvest due to cheap labor, they will suffer the most in the long run.
I’m also afraid that they’ll be cutting trees for making isobutanol, eventually, under the cover that it’s scrap wood, and so on… you can imagine all sorts of scenarios.
Letting that aside, everything is just fine with the technology, which clearly has a net lower CO2 output than gasoline. My only problem is how are legislators are going to stop frauds against humanity and nature being done in the name of this clean-burning fuel.
Hydrogen is the ultimate fuel and this is the true way to go, but let’s extract hydrogen and isobutanol from something else, not take them from our mouths.
I know what I just said sounded funny, but think for a moment: the civilized world is by far the most imperfect ecosystem, where money rules and if something brings money easily, all sorts of people will come up with ingenious schemes to trick you into believing what they do is right. They’ve done it so many times during the history, and they’ll do it again, for sure.