Attributes of best biofuel: Cost-efficient, eco-friendly
By DOUG FRATER
SPECIAL TO THE REGISTER
February 11, 2007
Disparate, powerful factions are unified that the world needs to find an
alternative to fossil fuels. The World Economic Forum and President George
W. Bush's State of the Union address both sounded the alarm on America's
dependence on foreign sources of energy. Hopes are high for the United
States to find ways to become less dependent on gasoline
The tides have finally begun to shift, and the world is now embracing the
challenge of reducing greenhouse gases. Companies that participate in the
process intelligently can reap significant economic benefits.
A key emerging opportunity is biofuels - fossil-fuel substitutes developed
from renewable green plants. The path to a greener world includes government
subsidies and grants as well as private enterprise.
But when governmental monies are in play, some programs get funded that
otherwise would not. Ethanol is a great example of a biofuel "solution" that
may be creating more harm than good. Ethanol, produced naturally from
fermentation by yeasts and other microorganisms, is subsidized heavily by
the federal government. Currently in the United States, corn grain is the
main feedstock for ethanol production. American taxpayers are billed heavily
to subsidize the country's privately owned ethanol plants.
What problems exist when a large amount of ethanol is produced from corn?
Corn is a primary source of livestock feed, and feedlot owners have seen
their costs rise dramatically because of ethanol production. These costs
will be passed on to consumers.
Additionally, these crops are not sustainable. When crops are harvested, the
embedded nutrients are removed and not replaced through the natural process
of recycling dead plants back into the land to provide nutrients for the
next generation. Ethanol production uses large amounts of water, which could
exacerbate the water shortage worldwide, which is already occurring in some
arid countries. Another factor: Farm machinery and vehicles burn fossil
fuels to harvest and transport the crops. This process contributes
considerable amounts of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere.
The most environmentally and economically attractive segment of biofuels
opportunities is biodiesel developed from vegetable oil. The oil is
extracted from a variety of crops, including soybean, rapeseed and palm oil.
However, these sources have significant drawbacks. They require extensive
land use, which displaces food crops, and are not the most productive or
efficient source of vegetable oil. Private enterprise is flocking to the
biodiesel business sector and is opening up the floodgates for research and
development of eco-conscious and cost-effective solutions.
As necessity is the "mother of invention," exploration of algae as a potent
biofuel is exploding. Private enterprise sees algae as the source of a new
renewable biofuel to meet the needs of a "green" market. Cost-effective
eco-technology practices could produce rapidly growing algae that require
minimal water or agricultural land.
Today, nearly 60 percent of oil is used for ground transportation.
Algae-to-oil technology could significantly reduce dependency on fossil
fuels while providing a generous financial return on investment.
Supplementary income can also be generated from the secondary byproduct of
the algae harvesting, which can be utilized in animal feed or agricultural
While the government can afford to champion green practices that do not
produce green returns, the same cannot be said for eco-technology companies,
which rely on investors. Private enterprise will ultimately champion the
biofuel solutions that deliver on their promises of being cost-effective and
DOUG FRATER is the president and CEO of Global Green Solutions Inc., which
develops and implements eco-technology solutions to produce renewable energy
and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in energy-industry applications.