Jeremy Martin: Biofuels

Elisse Lorenc

To phase out america’s dependency on petroleum, there is a better  biofuel alternative than corn ethanol, as stressed by Jeremy Martin, biofuels expert for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit organization working on issues such as climate change, energy transportation, and sustainable agriculture.

“[The Union for Concerned Scientists] wants to reach a public audience on the role of next generation biofuels and a comprehensive plan to cut oil use in half by 2030,” said Bill Simpkins, professor in geological and atmospheric sciences and member of the ucs.

UCS is pushing for next generation biofuels, cutting petroleum use and they want to get to a place where they’re getting the word out for what they think is going to work, he said.

“If we really want biofuels to play this large and expanding role, it’s going to have be more than just corn, we’re really going to have to bring some other more environmentally friendly crops in,” Martin said.

Corn ethanol is less detrimental to the environment in comparison to petroleum but there are other issues to consider. One concern is the idea of depleting a food source.

“The last few years corn ethanol production has grown to where it now consumes more than a third of the US corn crop,” Martin said.

“There’s only so much more of the corn crop that we can devote to making fuel before we start to have even more serious problems.”

Corn ethanol production requires a significant amount of water. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, corn ethanol requires 1/2 to 20 gallons of water per mile, sometimes more depending on irrigation practices.

Celluose biofuel would require less than one gallon of water per mile.

Celluose is cleaner and uses less water. The problem with traditional ethanol is the amount of water that it takes to turn it into ethanol, said LuCinda Hohmann, midwest outreach coordinator for the ucs.

“Perennial grasses can be grown on land that is not suitable for food production and that can allow us to continue to expand our biofuel production without as much pressure on food markets,” Martin said.

The problem is getting celluose on the market. With no plants built to refine the celluosic biofuel, Martin urges the need to start constructing celluose refineries.

It’s comparing apples and apple seeds to compare the corn ethanol business and the celluosic biofuel business because there hasn’t been any commercial facilities that have been built for celluosic ethanol, Martin said.

“We need to build the first few celluosic biofuel refineries, we’re at the stage where nobody wants to build the first production plant, everyone wants the second one.”

We haven’t got the celluose off the ground yet, POET is still trying to get their Emmetsberg facility up and we’re supposed to be producing celluosic ethanol by now, Simpkins said.

“The biggest piece is making sure that there are incentives in place to jumpstart the cellusoic market,” Hohmann said.

To wean america off its dependency on petroleum, ucs emphasizes the use of celluosic ethanol, along with other biofuels, electric powered cars, and more fuel efficient vehicles.

The organization’s goal is to have vehicles driving 60 miles per gallon by the year 2025.

“If you bought a new car at 2025 that met this average fuel economy of 60 miles per gallon, you would save 7500 dollars over the lifetime of that vehicle and that’s the equivalent to reducing the price of oil by more than a dollar,” Martin said.

With the need to move beyond petroleum, ucs urges the use of more biofuels. The organization see’s celluose as being another cleaner, greener alternative.

“We can’t reach the levels of oil displacement that we want to reach without biofuels made from multiple sources. We really need celluosic biofuels to be successful if we’re going to reach these large volumes,” Martin said.