Biomass to Chemicals and Fuels: Science, Technology and Public Policy

June 26, 2008 | 00:00

Biomass to chemicals and fuels: Science, technology and public policy

The Baker Institute Energy Forum and Rice University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEVE) have embarked on a two-year project examining the efficacy and impact of current U.S. biofuels policy. This study is entitled Fundamentals of a Sustainable U.S. Biofuels Policy.

Biofuels, as an alternative to traditional gasoline fuel, can contribute to reducing dependence on foreign oil. However, successful implementation of a sustainable biofuels program in the United States will require careful analysis of the potential strengths and weaknesses of the currently proposed U.S. policy. Corporate leaders are also in need of more complete data in assessing expanded industry participation in the biofuels arena. More policy research is necessary to identify necessary steps to avoid the unintended, negative impacts on sustainable development and the environment, including deleterious impacts on domestic agricultural and food systems, surface and ground water, and overall air quality in the United States.

In discussions of existing policy proposals for broad expansion of biofuels into the U.S. fuel system to 20% and beyond, inadequate attention has been paid to technical difficulties and costs related to standardization and reliability of fuel as biofuels, from widely differing cellulotic biomaterial inputs, are added to the U.S. fuel system. Such shifting fuel formulations will require adjustments in emerging car engine sensor technologies and other tests to ensure fuel safety and standardization.

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