Have any of you heard of “cellulosic biofuel”? I chose to focus my topic on the alternative energy source, cellulosic biofuel, since I constantly am hearing debates in the news regarding our reliance on imported oil and also I was curious about what other energy source options we might have available, if fossil fuels were no longer an option.
Researchers are being asked by policy makers to advance their current knowledge of alternative fuel, such as cellulosic biofuel, in hopes of creating fuel that will be efficient while not negatively impacting our environment. The goal is to begin driving cars and heating homes using cleaner and less costly biofuel instead of fossil fuel, which are damaging the environment, but there is still uncertainty regarding this topic. Cellulosic biofuel is made using biological materials, or biomass crops, such as grasses, like Miscanthus X giganteus, and are a renewable energy source.
First, I would like to show you a video, so you can better understand the importance of cellulosic biofuel today and it’s potential for the future. *SHOW VIDEO HERE* As the video stated, the United States has set a mandate committing to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, in hopes of creating a new clean energy economy. But, how will the United States achieve this commendable goal? What types of biomass will we use to make this biofuel? Many believe that cellulosic biofuel is the biofuel that will replace petroleum when we are able to convert it into motor fuel.
These biological materials, or cellulosic feedstocks, can be used to produce biofuel from a variety of different sources, such as forestry residue, agricultural residue, grasses, trees, and other plant-derived wastes.
Surprisingly, way back in 1921, Harold Hibbert, a chemist at Yale University, first pointed out the potential of cellulosic biomass.
Isaac Cann, a professor of Microbiology and Animal Sciences here at Illinois, also confirmed for me that using cellulosic biomass to make fuel is not a new idea. He told me that many years ago when he was a PhD student, it seemed like everyone was interested in turning trash into fuel, but then all of a sudden this idea disappeared because the funding for the research vanished. He explained to me that in the past, the funding for cellulosic biofuel went in cycles because it was dependent on the price of fuel, but he truly believes that this time is different and that cellulosic biofuel is here to stay because of all of the environmental issues the public is now educated about.
Supporters argue that cellulosic biofuel can reduce the United State’s reliance on imported oil and create green collar jobs, like we saw in the video. This new biofuel industry can stimulate the economy while also being environmentally sustainable, unlike fossil fuels.
Some people who question whether cellulosic biofuel can replace fossil fuel argue that cellulosic biofuel has it’s flaws and it will create an entirely new set of problems, including a rise in food prices, and potential environmental damage, such as deforestation.
Suhail Barot, who is a graduate student in the department of Urban and Regional Planning here at Illinois, along with being the Chair of Student Sustainability Committee, passionately highlighted a few of his own concerns regarding cellulosic biofuel for me. He told me he is concerned with how we will grow this cellulosic material since we do not want to damage the resources we have since they produce things such as natural fibers and food for us. He stressed that we must manage the demand for cellulosic biomass carefully by doing what we can to ensure that no matter what cellulosic material we choose to grow, that it does not impact other areas of agriculture negatively or destroy any of our natural habitats.
Rhea Kressman, the Assistant Editor of Global Change Biology and Global Change Biology Bioenergy, told me that since we have had such a huge reliance on fossil fuel for the last 150 years or so, making the transition from fossil fuel to any biofuel might be a real challenge.
As you can see, the future for cellulosic biofuel is uncertain, but many believe that in the future it may be our most sustainable solution. And so the saga about what energy source will be the next fossil fuel continues…
Cellulosic Biofuel Presentation
By Amy Yanow
Are we ready?
What is cellulosic biofuel?
Future clean energy economy