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Biofuels: ethical, ecological and economic consideration. Professor Bernard L. (Baruch) Epel Director, The Manna Center for Plant Biosciences Tel Aviv University. Standard of Living in third world rapidly increasing. West has relatively small populations

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Biofuels: ethical, ecological and economic consideration

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biofuels ethical ecological and economic consideration

Biofuels: ethical, ecological and economic consideration

Professor Bernard L. (Baruch) Epel

Director, The Manna Center for Plant Biosciences Tel Aviv University.

standard of living in third world rapidly increasing
Standard of Living in third world rapidly increasing.
  • West has relatively small populations
  • Major population and GDP increases in China, India, Korea, Thailand, and more.
  • We are burning ever larger amounts of fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil).
with in 40 years world population with grow by at least 50 to 9 billion
With-in 40 years world population with grow by at least 50% to 9 billion

More people, higher standard of living:


  • Heating
  • air conditioners
  • cars and trucks

Fuel needs will grow tremendously

what is it going to cost us
What is it going to cost us?
  • Increased greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, Nitrous oxide). =========global warming!!
  • Energy insecurity; political blackmail
  • Price increases and price instability
we apparently face major fuel crises
We apparently face major fuel crises
  • Motor vehicles consume very large part of petroleum needs
  • oil production has peaked
  • we are entering a period of
    • growing fuel scarcity
    • increasing demands
  • this will lead to large increases in prices due to a commodity which is becoming ever scarcer.
  • Economic crises
  • Environmental crises
  • Political blackmail
  • Possible military conflicts over scarce basic energy resources.
what are we to do
What are we to do?
  • Will proposed solutions really solve the existing problem without creating new and possible more damaging effects?
a solution being pushed aggressively and with messianic fervor is
A solution being pushed aggressively and with messianic fervor is:
  • develop alternate energy sources, preferable renewable sources
    • For electricity, heating, industrial power, we can use
    • nuclear, fission, fusion or
    • renewable sources: wind, water, photovoltaic,

What about cars and trucks?

develop biofuels
Develop biofuels!!! ???
  • Recycle Carbon dioxide.
    • Stabilize CO2 levels
  • Provide energy security
    • Less dependent of foreign providers
    • Dry up money to terrorist groups financed by some oil producers
replace petrol with biofuels
Replace petrol with biofuels
  • Is this really a viable solution?
  • Is it economically sound?
  • Are there hidden problems we must consider?
  • Are biofuel realistic solutions to global warming?
  • Will biofuels solve one ecological problem but create others?
  • What are the societal consequences of developing this technology?
  • Who is for and who is against?
  • What are their motives for or against developing these technologies?
  • Are their motives pure or do some have a hidden agenda?
  • Who will be the winners/losers?
  • World population:
    • FOR/AGAINST: need a reliable source of fuel at a reasonable price.
    • FOR: Want to prevent future catastrophe due to global warming
    • AGAINST: Want stable source of foods and clothing at reasonable prices
  • Western governments (including Israel)
    • FOR: Want energy security
    • FOR: Want stable sustainable supply of fuel at a stable price that will not cause economic instability.
    • FOR: ???Want to protect domestic farmers and industries; will tax foreign producers; subsidize local growers.
  • Third world governments (not oil producers)
    • FOR: Want to develop a commodity market for farmers and develop local biofuel producers.
    • FOR: Become less dependent of foreign producers and develop their own market.
  • Farmers
    • FOR: BUT WITH AN AGENDA American corn farmers, Sugar cane farmers (Brazil, latin America, many African nations)
    • FOR: BUT WITH AN AGENDA Commodity farmers growing high oil content crops (small farmers, especially in third world)
    • FOR: BUT WITH AN AGENDA Industrial farmers But their entry into the market will push out small farmers.
    • Against: Farmers growing animals for meat due to higher cost of feed crops
  • Shippers (truckers, rail, pipelines, ships)
    • will need to increase investment in developing new transportation infrastructure for raw materials and final product.
  • Oil producers generally against
    • Lower prices of oil, loss of markets, decreased profits
    • Unless they diversify into biofuels, they will be big losers.
  • Oil industry (refiners and petrochemical industry)
    • Refiners will need to develop new technologies and infrastructure at high cost or lose market shares
    • Petrochemical industry, will see stabilization or decrease in price of raw materials (winners).
  • Environmentalists (schizophrenics)
    • For: Biofuels if they will aid in stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide increases; stabilized global warming,
    • For developing renewable energy sources that decrease agricultural footprint. (Here we have a possible conflict). Not maize.
    • Against: they have concerns about loss of biodiversity and loss of natural habitat due to clearing of land for expanding agriculture.
    • Against: if need to use GMOs
what are the biofuel options
What are the biofuel options?
  • Starch conversion to ethanol (maize, wheat, rice, various tubers)
  • Sucrose conversion to ethanol (sugar cane)
  • Biodiesel: plant ( algae) oils converted to diesel
  • Ligno-cellulose conversion to ethanol
do they all provide positive results
Do they all provide positive results?
  • Economically?
  • Ecologically?
  • morally?
starch to ethanol
Starch to ethanol
  • Advantages Maize: (In USA)
    • Agricultural infrastructure in place.
    • Fermentation and distilling technology
    • Will lower oil imports
      • increase energy security
      • cause oil prices to decrease. (good / bad????)
    • Will increase income of farmers
    • Will stimulate economy
      • farm equipment; transportation infrastructure.
      • decreased outflow of dollars to purchase oil.
starch to ethanol maize
Starch to ethanol (MAIZE)
  • Disadvantages Maize:
  • large amounts of high quality land needed.
  • displaces traditional commodity crops (Soy bean, rape)
  • Maize will be diverted from export markets raising prices on international market. (Japan, Mexico, Africa etc.)
  • Maize will be diverted from feed market
    • price of tortillas has doubled.
    • Increase in meat prices
  • indirect good effect: other countries will increase gain production; which should be good for local farmers
starch to ethanol maize disadvantages maize
Starch to ethanol (MAIZE)Disadvantages Maize:
  • Marginal lands will be returned to cultivation, decreasing biodiversity
  • Possible pressure to utilize virgin lands.
  • Not economically competitive: Subsidies are needed to make economically feasible to compete with gasoline.
  • Engines must be modified; costly but feasible; fueling stations must be modified (feasible).
ecological disadvantages of maize as feedstock
Ecological disadvantages of Maize as feedstock
  • Ethanol from maize gives very little carbon sequestration
    • Estimated greenhouse savings is only about 15% .
    • Requires large input of fertilizer produced from natural gas or coal
  • Nutrient runoff
  • Farmers are not employing crop rotation maize-soybean –maize
moral dilemma should usa use maize as feedstock
Moral dilemma: should USA use maize as feedstock?
  • Maize ethanol creates fuel security, promote economic prosperity but is ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases and may increase water pollution.
  • Maize ethanol increases farm income, reduces farm subsidies but causes temporary increase in food costs.
  • Initially there will be increases in food costs but will allow third world farmers to make a living growing maize.

What is the right thing to do?

my analysis maize ethanol use should be encouraged
My analysis: Maize ethanol use should be encouraged.
  • Maize derived ethanol will serve as bridgehead for second generation lignocellulose derived ethanol.
    • Infrastructure for use and distribution will be in place.
  • Agri-research will increase yields, decrease need for increased field development.
sucrose to ethanol sugar cane a winner
Sucrose to ethanol (sugar cane); A winner
  • Advantages
    • Economically competitive with petrol without subsidy
    • Leaves smaller ecological footprint; less use of fertilizers; grows in poorer soils.
    • Could be commodity crop for third world countries
    • Ethanol from sugar cane has high carbon sequestration index. Sugar cane ethanol gives a greenhouse gas savings of about 80%
    • In Brazil and other tropical areas large tracks of land already available.
sucrose to ethanol sugar cane a winner27
Sucrose to ethanol (sugar cane); A winner
  • Disadvantages sugar cane:
    • increased in demand for sugar cane could lead to virgin lands (rain forest) being cleared to provide extra land for cultivation.
    • Depletes soils.
    • Will not be a feedstock in North America/Europe.
conclusions recommendations
Conclusions recommendations
  • Conclusions
    • Sugarcane sucrose to ethanol conversion economically competitive
    • Greenhouse gas benefits excellent
    • Extensive use should moderate or cause decrease in price of oil.
  • Recommendations
    • Western world must lower import tariffs to allow it to compete with local sources which are not economically and ecologically competitive. (Globalization very very good. Local farmers in USA/ Europe will partially loose out ).
biodiesel plant oils converted to diesel
Biodiesel: plant oils converted to diesel
  • Advantages
    • fossil energy ratio between 2 to 3. Greenhouse gas reduction 40 to 70% over conventional diesel per km.
    • In USA most popular oil plant is soybean; nitrogen fixer needs little nitrogen fertilizers.
    • Rapeseed/ canola major oil plants in USA, Canada and Europe give three times as much oil per acre as soybean.
    • Offer significant rotational benefits with maize, improve soil quality and help reduce soil born diseases.
    • Processing and distribution infrastructure in place.
    • Soybean oil is/was cheap because it is a byproduct. Soybean meal is of higher market value.
  • Disadvantages
  • USA automobiles do not run on diesel. In Europe yes.
  • Soybean produces 1/6 as much fuel per acre as corn ethanol.
  • Rapeseed/ Canola do not fix nitrogen
    • Yield about 1/2 as much fuel per acre as corn ethanol.
  • Soybean oil will be more expensive if soybean meal is in surplus. For farmer total value is important.
  • Unless co-products can be manufactured it will not be economical to grow soybean/rape plants for biodiesel.
  • In USA maize is more profitable
  • In USA and Europe not enough excess farm land suitable and available for cultivation of soybean/rape and other northern oil seed crops.
  • Grow other oilseed crops (Examples: oil palm ,coconut, Jatropa, Eutrophia, caster bean).
    • higher energy ratios
    • better yields per acre
    • good greenhouse gas reduction indices
  • Advantages
    • Many grow best in tropics, in poor soils
    • could be great commodity crops for third world countries.
  • Land availability for cultivation.
  • Large investments in infrastructure may be needed in third world countries.
  • Soybean/rape niche European product
  • Good for greenhouse gas stabilization
  • Would provide energy security but at price
  • Not economic unless subsidized and protected
  • Europe and America must open markets to third world farmers and industries producing biodiesel from non-food plants
  • This will create ethical dilemma: open markets will help achieve social justice and effectively stabilize greenhouse emissions but
    • Will reduce energy security of West
    • Will hurt local farmers

Ethical conclusion: import biodiesel feedstock from third world producers.

the ultimate fuel lignocellulose to ethanol
The ultimate fuel: lignocellulose to ethanol.
  • Advantages:
  • high yields per acre (dunam). The most abundant plant product on earth.
  • Estimated greenhouse gas reduction about 80 percent.
  • Very large yield of biomass per acre. (example eshel tamarisk tree. 10-12 tons/acre/year vrs corn 3.5 tons/ acre)
  • Different plant types for different soils, climates, can be developed and bred for higher yields.
  • Can be grown on marginal land.
  • Generally need little fertilizer.
    • Technology must be developed to economically convert cellulose into sugars and sugars to ethanol.
    • Technology must be developed to modify feedstock so it is easier to convert.
can it be done
Can it be done?
  • Governments must finance basic research and R&D to achieve this goal.
  • Basic research phase 5 to 10 years
  • followed by a period to set up the necessary industrial infrastructure to produce cellulosic ethanol.
  • Distribution network will already be in place
  • To bring this about will require concerted efforts by botanists, plant bioengineers, microbiologists, microbiobial bitechnologist, and finally engineers and industry together with government funding and private investors.
to do this we will need
To do this we will need
  • Botanists
  • Plant bioengineers
  • Plant breeders
  • Farmers
  • Microbiologists
  • Microbial biotechnologists
  • Engineers
  • industry together with government funding and private investors
conclusions and recommendations
Conclusions and recommendations
  • Allow all technologies to develop.
  • Put heavy taxes on petroleum fuels
  • Do not protect local biofuel producers.
    • Allow third/developing world compete and produce.
      • This will only provide partial energy security (reduce dependence on oil etc) but maximum greenhouse gas stabilization.
  • Governments and private investors must to invest in the development of technologies for biomass conversion to sugars.
  • The private market and investment funds will further the development. We are talking about a trillion dollar market.
the place of israel and tel aviv university in this saga
The place of Israel and Tel Aviv University in this saga
  • Professors Weisel and Eshel (TAU) development of feedstock for biomass ethanol.
  • Professors Avni and Zilberstein (TAU): employ molecular engineering to improve feedstock properties.
  • Professor Gafni and coworkers (Vocani Center): develop non-food crops for biodiesel.
  • Collaborative researches of Professor Rafi Lamed (TAU) and Professor Ed Bayer (WIS) development of biotechnology for enzymatic conversion of lignocellulose to sugars.