In the wake of oil prices touching new highs every day the scientists are hoping that biofuels like ethanol would become affordable soon as much focus is now on developing technologies to use their inherent potential as green energy solution.
In an interview to Fareed Zakaria published in the Newsweek issue of Nov 05, 2007 under the title, ‘It’s Not a Silver Bullet’, Stanford University’s Chris Somerville, Director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology, appeared to exude the same enthusiasm about the role the whole range of alterative energies can play in mitigating the impending energy shortage. He is of the opinion that many a solutions need to be found to make it possible, like achieving 1 percent solar efficiency on 1 percent of the land in the world.
He feels that the secretary of Energy’s goal of getting about 30 percent of transportation fuels from biofuels by 2030 is achievable, though it would require developing countrywide facilities to do so. To a widely held view that corn-based ethanol takes more energy to produce than it generates, he said that it is ‘probably not true’, as per the best analyses he quoted to have seen, it is energy-positive. He feels that subsidies for corn-based ethanol are not required as its cost of production is profitable even without subsidy. Earlier the price of ethanol was not much but now it has increased to a level where it is more than enough to pay off the cost of setting up of the ethanol plant in about a year’s time.
In the context of cellulosic fuel, which is drawn from the whole plant, not just the grains, he feels that by subjecting the cellulosics to fermentation compounds like biodiesel and biopetrol can be made. He hoped that within a span of about 10 years, we will be able to produce cellulosic fuels much like our present day diesel and gasoline. It is important that they be made like today’s diesel and gasoline as otherwise it will be difficult to make their widespread use feasible and consequently acceptable. With regard to the use of wind energy he is of the opinion that it is still very much underutilized. It can easily fulfil about a third of our global needs. Likewise geothermal, hydrogen and clean coal can also meet energy needs beneficially to quite an extent.
He feels that in future we will be using a range of technologies, wind, geothermal and biofuels being part of the basket. In his opinion Europe is ahead of America in several technologies. The use of wind energy started in Europe and solar is being favoured in Germany. In biofuels USA is the leader, hopefully exceeding Brazil in biofuel production. However, the impending danger of the effects of global warming may dampen the progress to some extent. DNBhatnagar