A company called Renmatix says it can make ethanol from wood and woody biomass using nothing but water. If they're right -- and they just cut the ribbon on an R&D facility in Pennsylvania in order to find out -- it could mean the unlocking of a vast reserve of biomass previously untouched by the cleantech industry.
Ray Mabus, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, has a refreshing historical perspective on the Navy's efforts to end its dependence on our increasingly expensive and environmentally destructive supplies of oil. From a speech he recently gave at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0: In the 1850s, we went from sail to coal. In the early 19th century, we went from coal to oil, and in the 1950s, we pioneered nuclear.
The Department of Energy, always picking winners, you know? The first Quadrennial Technology Review, to be released today, favors technologies that could come into commercial use in 10 years — i.e. consumer goods you can spend money for. This could mean DOE favors EVs over new clean energy technologies. This company, Renmatix, will probably make it under the wire, though. It says it has the right technology to make commercially viable biofuels from biomass and just opened a plant to forward development of the technique. The natural gas boom comes to Ohio. Although Beijing usually gets a bad rap on pollution, Central and South Asia are not great places to live if you like inhaling clean air, either.
The oil, gas, and nuclear industries have enjoyed huge federal subsidies for a century, all of which have far outpaced investment in renewable energy.
Last year, about a third of the biodiesel plants in the country went idle and output fell by half. But now federal tax credits and renewable energy mandates mean that biodiesel is booming again and plants are opening back up. Their hold on success is tenuous, though: it depends, the industry says, on Congress extending a tax credit that pushes fuel blenders to include biofuel. The current boom started when Congress restored that credit back in December. But that was only a one-year reboot. For the industry to revive completely, producers say they need a longer extension.
Despite the backlash against ethanol in the U.S. and biodiesel in the E.U., global production of biofuels was up 17 percent in 2010. That's 27.7 billion gallons of liquid fuel for the year. (For reference, the U.S. uses 137 billion gallons of gasoline per year, though that's not directly equivalent because biofuels include biodiesel, and ethanol contains slightly less energy than regular gasoline.)
One down side of biofuels like ethanol is that they rely on easily processed crops that are also staple foods. The more farm space is given over to raising corn, soybeans, and sugar for fuels, the less is available for raising those crops to feed humans. Luckily, scientists have just discovered microbes that could help turn waste plant matter like corn stalks and wood chips into fuel. All they needed was a little bit of panda poo.
2011 is the International Year of Forests, and as part of their efforts to promote the sustainable forestry, the National Association of State Foresters, which represents state forestry agencies, and the National Network of Forest Practitioners, granted a fellowship to photographer Josh Birnbaum to document the state of the nation's forests. Birnbaum's first stop was in West Virginia, where he hung out with young foresters (pictured above), visited with the wood industry, traveled with researchers to a post-mining reclamation area, and documented blight fungus.
Two steps forward, one step back: Congress cuts two ethanol subsidies worth billions, but the White House redirects $510 million to power the military's ships and aircraft with corn-sourced biofuels.