Sustainable Systems FORUM #4: Energy, Wealth and Human Development: Why We Must (and How We Can) Have Sustainable Biofuels with Dr. Bruce Dale

Event Type: 
Guest Lecture
Bruce Dale
Friday, April 6, 2012 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
1040 Dana
Event Sponsor: 
Center for Sustainable Systems

"Energy, Wealth and Human Development: Why We Must (and How We Can) Have Sustainable Biofuels"


 Bruce E. Dale, Professor

Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science

DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center

Michigan State University

The rate of energy use (power consumption) strongly affects national wealth and the potential for human development.  Approximately 90% of current world energy use is from fossil fuel consumption, and roughly one third of that is from petroleum.  Peak oil arrived in 2005.  Peak coal and peak natural gas are yet to come, but come they will.  If more human beings, now and in the future, are to develop their potential, very large scale renewable energy systems are not just a “good idea”; they are essential.  Among the renewable solar-driven energy systems, plant biomass is unique in being both the solar collector and the battery.  Plant biomass (including algae) is also the only renewable source of reduced carbon and liquid transportation fuels or “biofuels”.  Thus biofuels are the only complete replacement for petroleum fuels.

Some believe that biofuels are optional; that electrically-driven transportation will be adequate to meet societal needs. They are mistaken. High energy density liquid fuels from biomass are essential to support commerce and thus sustain the wealth of nations.  Since we must have biofuels, it will be more productive and much more enjoyable to focus our efforts on how we can produce biofuels most sustainably.  

This presentation concludes with a description of our own work to produce cellulosic biofuels more sustainably by resolving the indirect land use change issue while at the same time improving the logistics of cellulosic biofuel systems.  We do this by pretreating biomass using the ammonia fiber expansion (AFEX™) in a distributed system using local biomass processing depots.  AFEX™ pretreated  biomass is both a feedstock for biofuel production and a ruminant animal feed, thereby largely eliminating the “food vs. fuel” conflict.