Review: Growing Energy

F. David Doty provides the following brief review of Growing Energy, a December 2004 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council on the prospects for advanced biofuels.

Growing Energy is best overall study I've seen to date on advanced biofuels. Definitely better than the December 2004 report from the National Commission on Energy Policy, though that too was better than most of what we were seeing just a year ago. Growing Energy needs to be brought to the attention of all policy makers. It is thorough, educational, informative, and scientifically sound. It, along with the first really big renewables conference in the U.S,, just a few weeks away and the efforts of a number of passionate and better-informed advocates, should really begin to get the ball moving.

Note its major shortcomings: (1) its suggestion of only $1.1B over the next 7 years in biofuel RD&D, (2) a goal of only 1B gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year (comparable to current corn ethanol) in the U.S. by 2015, and (3) a focus largely limited to cellulosic ethanol from switchgrass. (For comparison, Brazil will add at least an order of magnitude more sugar-cane ethanol production during the next decade.) The first two of the above points stem from a general failure to appreciate the economic urgency of developing viable alternatives to petroleum and natural gas, which in turn arises from acceptance of DOE/EIA projections, which have been proven grossly wrong every year for the past seven.

As an example of a point well made in Growing Energy, it shows (p. 46) that unimaginative and pessimistic assumptions (based on experience from the mid '90s) can lead to projections of needing 1750 million acres to supply the biofuel for our transportation needs in 2050, whereas realistic assumptions in efficiency gains at all levels (land production, fuel processing, vehicle mileage and usage, etc.) currently lead to projections of 114 million acres needed to produce all the biofuel for all our transportation needs in 2050. It then shows how most of this can come from existing cultivated and dual-use lands - and of course, history suggests efficiency gains will continue.

My bottom line is that renewables are finally beginning to get the respect they deserve. Of course, the primary reason is that the rise in oil prices over the past four years is making them much more competitive. China's rapidly growing thirst for oil (30% increase in imports last year), along with the approach of Peak Oil, will do more to stimulate viable alternatives than anything I can say or do.

Created: 2005-02-12 13:13:05 by Arthur Smith
Modified: 2005-02-12 13:15:06 by Arthur Smith