Sandia Labs - General Motors Study: 75 Billion Gallons of Cellulosic Biofuel is Possible By 2030

February 11 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 2

algae biofuel

A joint study by Sandia National Laboratories and General Motors speculates that non-food crop resources (with help from corn) 'could sustainably replace nearly a third of US gasoline use by the year 2030.'

The 90 Billion Gallon Study [PDF], which focused only on starch-based and cellulosic ethanol, found that an increase to 90 billion gallons of ethanol could be sustainably achieved by 2030 within real-world economic and environmental parameters 'assuming technical and scientific progress continues at expected rates.'

The Study assumes 75 billion gallons would be ethanol made from nonfood cellulosic feedstocks and 15 billion gallons from corn-based ethanol.

The set of non-food crop resources explored include: agricultural residue, such as corn stover and wheat straw; forest residue; dedicated energy crops, including switchgrass; and short rotation woody crops, such as willow and poplar trees. Competitive pricing models include costs of producing, harvesting, storing and transporting these sources to newly built biorefineries.

Not forgetting the real problem: The Combustion Engine
Tapping biological pathways to capture carbon and create usable forms of energy is a good idea.  But we must not lose site of the real problem: our dependency on the combustion engine and its requirement for liquid fuels.  Energy industry pundits are always quick to raise the problem with the oil market's lack of substitutability.  

As long as the combustion engine lives we cannot put electrons from solar, wind or nuclear inside the gas tank. It might not be the 'end game', but next generation biofuels are the only viable substitute liquid fuels on our our horizon.

Key Findings include:

- Continued support of R&D and initial commercialization is critical because sustained technological progress and commercial validation is a prerequisite to affordably producing the large volumes of ethanol considered in this study.

- Policy incentives such as a federal cap and trade program, carbon taxes, excise tax credits and loan guarantees for cellulosic biofuels are important to mitigate the risk of oil market volatility.

- The domestic investment for biofuels production is projected to be virtually the same as the investment required to sustain long-term domestic petroleum production.

- Cellulosic biofuels could compete without incentives with oil priced at $90 per barrel, assuming a reduction in total costs as advanced biofuels technologies mature.

- Large-scale cellulosic biofuel production could be achieved at or below current water consumption levels of petroleum fuels from on-shore oil production and refining.


Executive Summary

Image Credit: Steve Jurvetson Flick CC License

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