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Biofuels Reboot

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John Benson's picture
Senior Consultant, Microgrid Labs

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Microgrid Labs, Inc. Advisor: 2014 to Present Developed product plans, conceptual and preliminary designs for projects, performed industry surveys and developed...

  • Member since 2013
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  • Feb 23, 2023

Access Publication

As I wrote a recent post, “Blueprint for Transportation Decarbonization,” I discovered that U.S. Government currently intends to use many “Sustainable Liquid Fuels,” especially in the Maritime and Aviation subsectors (see the main image of this post). A few days later I was reading my latest issue of Scientific American, and came across an excellent article on these fuels, and you can probably guess the rest of the story.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Feb 26, 2023

To "access (the actual Scientific American) publication" you can press here:

Your expanded pdf commentary of the SA article is fair, and thus equally confusing.

First, it is unfortunate the original ADM (supermarket to the world) cartoon saturation advertising (that claimed growing corn ethanol is a fuel replacement) remains so entrenched.

Starch is a "carbohydrate" polymer of the sugar glucose, as is cellulose, and yeast eats sugar along with many other basic nutrients to grow complex proteins, fats, nucleic acids, etc. Ethanol is a waste product that can indeed fuel an engine. Cellulosic ethanol attempts to follow this production path.

A different biofuel production path first incorporates process energy to destroy enormous chemical bond structure to provide "synthesis gas." Building "hydrocarbon" fuels from syngas has its own long history. A reasonable guess is (the largest farmland owner in the US and nuclear advocate) Bill Gates, and (former Mass. Sen.) US Climate Czar John Kerry are organizing a development effort at MIT (described earlier on TEC). Effectively storing nuclear energy into chemical fuel energy.

Clearly, I don't know how to untangle this very complex assessment any better than you, or SA, or the "regulators" discussed. And can only hope others open their minds to something different. What I can affirm is burning firewood for heat is better when you first brush off the snow, melt the ice, and dry the log. Overcoming the strong cellulose chemical bond structure and removing the Oxygen would give me an even better heat to weight performance ratio.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Feb 27, 2023

Hi Rick:

An excellent analysis. Yes, you've hit on the main reason I rarely write about biomass, although it appears to be moving in a positive direction. Also, in a few decades we will need some form of low-carbon fuel for all of the old cars & trucks that will still be running around. This will either involve biomass and/or energy produced using renewables.

Given your last comments, I think you might find one of my earliest (2018) posts about biomass interesting. This is briefly described and linked below.

NUTS: This paper is about woody biomass, why, when and how we should use this for energy production. Oh yes, and it is also about everything nuts. 


Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Feb 28, 2023

I read your linked biomass "nuts" article and liked it. You informatively mentioned several methods of using biomass. An open mind. Thanks.

I had also asked my wife to read your above mentioned SA article, and we agreed our efforts here should not be considered "nuts" anymore. Thanks again. We live on a mixed forest, hay, garden, wetland, clay soil small farm. I was a Biophysicist, she a Food Scientist. We have dramatically improved plant and animal biodiversity, and productivity.

Outdoor exercise enhancing nature beats sweating on a treadmill at a crowded, expensive gym. But the toolset for small farms needs to dramatically improve. The forgotten peasant farmers of the world can generate reliable electric power, enrich the soil with carbon, protect biodiversity, and help feed a growing world. Most of the nonsense coming from "climate" activists is pure fantasy of noisy city brats that do none of the above.

John Benson's picture
John Benson on Feb 28, 2023

Thanks for the reply, Rick.

My wife and I have owned our house in Arnold for 23 years. I started out hiking in the forest, when I went up there, and then transitioned to cross-country skiing in the winter, and splitting Almond-Wood in the summer. In the process I have lost almost 100 lbs., and I am in very good shape for a septuagenarian.  It has also greatly improved my sanity.

I'm driving up there Thursday, and I expect to spend all day shoveling snow. We have just had a huge dump of snow up there (I would guess 7 to 8 feet in the last week-and-a-half). Even though we have a relatively short driveway, the berm is likely to be really impressive.


John Benson's picture
Thank John for the Post!
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