Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Professor: Future looks bright for bio-based alternative fuels

DesMoines Register
August 29, 2006

Ames, Ia. — The future is now for farm crops and other potential substitutes for petroleum products, Dartmouth College engineering professor Lee Lynd said Monday at the Biobased Industry Outlook Conference at Iowa State University.

Lynd, 48, a widely recognized expert on alternative energy sources, said "a newfound sense of potential" for crops and other forms of alternative energy has set in among the public, the media and investors.

"There have been more changes in the past year than in the previous 25 years," Lynd said. "I see big changes."

Agriculture needs to capitalize on this interest to cut American dependence on foreign oil, lessen the impact of fossil fuels on the environment and improve the farm economy, Lynd said.

He cited biofuels processed from biomass crops or biological waste materials such as wood chips as the best alternative to displace gasoline.

Biomass crops like switchgrass "are very, very cost-competitive raw materials" for fuel production.

Lynd is also chief science officer at Mascoma Corp., a company that wants to make ethanol from cellulose, the woody or fibrous parts of plants or plant-based waste.

In an interview after his speech, Lynd said cellulosic ethanol plants will start to be built as soon as next year. Many pilot plants are under construction.

Existing ethanol plants that now use kernels of corn as a feedstock will be able to be retrofitted to handle biomass materials like corn stalks and cobs, he said.

Retrofitting ethanol plants will be cheaper than building cellulosic plants, he said.

"Capital investment (in a cellulosic ethanol plant) needs to be smaller, rather than larger, because of the risk," Lynd said.

By mixing new biomass sources with more traditional ethanol feedstocks, such as corn kernels, the risk is also lessened, he said.

Biodiesel made from oil seeds, such as soybeans, has less promise as an alternative fuel, Lynd said, because it probably won't displace as much petroleum as cellulosic ethanol will.

No comments: