Lighting the Way: Toward a Sustainable Energy Future

  • AuthorInterAcademies Council
  • Release Date1 October 2007
  • Copyright2007
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5.7 Conclusion
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Biofuels hold great promise for simultaneously addressing climate-change and energy-security concerns.

Improvements in agriculture will allow for food production adequate to support a predicted peak world population on the order of 9 billion people with excess capacity for growing energy crops. Maximizing the potential contribution of biofuels requires commercializing methods for producing fuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks (including agricultural residues and wastes), which have the potential to generate five to ten times more fuel than processes that use starches from feedstocks like sugar cane and corn. Recent advances in molecular and systems biology show great promise in developing improved feedstocks and much less energy-intensive means of converting plant material into liquid fuel. In addition, intrinsically more efficient conversion of sunlight, water, and nutrients into chemical energy may be possible with microbes.

Recommendations

    Conduct intensive research into the production of biofuels based on lignocellulose conversion.

    Invest in research and development on direct microbial production of butanol or other forms of biofuels that may be superior to ethanol.

    Implement strict regulations to insure that the cultivation of biofuels feedstocks accords with sustainable agricultural practices and promotes biodiversity, habitat protection, and other land management objectives.

    Develop advanced bio-refineries that use biomass feedstocks to self-generate power and extract higher-value co-products. Such refineries have the potential to maximize economic and environmental gains from the use of biomass resources.

    Develop improved biofuels feedstocks through genetic selection and/or molecular engineering, including drought resistant and self-fertilizing plants that require minimal tillage and fertilizer or chemical inputs.

    Mount a concerted effort to collect and analyze data on current uses of biomass by type and technology (both direct and for conversion to other fuels), including traditional uses of biomass.

    Conduct sustained research to assess and mitigate any adverse environmental or ecosystem impacts associated with the large-scale cultivation of biomass energy feedstocks, including impacts related to competition with other land uses (including uses for habitat preservation and food production), water needs, etc.

    Needed actionsThe S&T community and the private sector should greatly augment their research and development (and deployment) efforts toward more efficient, environmentally sustainable technologies and processes for the production of modern biofuels. Governments can help by stepping up public research and development funding and by adapting existing subsidy and fiscal policies so as to favor the use of biofuels over that of fossil fuels, especially in the transport sector.Governments should pay appropriate attention to promoting sustainable means of biofuels production and to avoiding conflicts between biofuel production and food production.

Document Date: October 1, 2007
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