In choosing a topic for my final discussion, I wanted to focus on a solution to a problem, rather than a problem itself. Growing up in an era of global warming precautions, I felt like this would be a good problem to tackle. More specifically, I wanted to focus on the human need for fuel and its effects on the environment. Having taken many biology courses in the past years, it has been stressed that our use of fossil fuels results in harmful emissions driving global warming.
As a result, I chose to focus on green fuels—more specifically cellulosic biofuels. Our discussion centered on the arguments for and against the implementation of these fuel sources, and the hidden implications of each. First, we talked about human energy consumption and current levels of biofuel use. In doing so, we all agreed that biofuels have taken a backseat as far as global energy production. I then introduced the idea of harvesting the sun’s great energetic potential via cellulose fuels. We all discussed the many organisms that would have to be harvested for an effective cellulose biofuel industry. It was also at this point that we began our discussion on whether or not a cellulose biofuel industry would be economically viable. We concluded that although it is currently more expensive to produce than corn ethanol, it would become cheaper due to economies of scale. Another point of discussion was the infrastructural implications of large-scale cellulosic biofuels—many worry that switching over to a biofuel market would necessitate large, costly infrastructure changes. In the end, we all essentially agreed that in order for the cellulosic biofuel industry to play an important part in our energy consumptions it would have to further develop its production techniques to lower costs. After all, consumers are going to go for the cheaper alternative (whether it is ‘green’ or not, sadly).
Genomics of cellulosic biofuels by Edward M. Rubin (Journal Article: Nature) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v454/n7206/full/nature07190.html
Cellulosic Biofuels: Are They Economically Viable and Environmentally Sustainable by Madhu Khanna (PDF: Choices Magazine)
Researchers Prepare To Reap a New Harvest (Journal Article: Science)
Better Bug to Make Cellulosic Ethanol by Prachi Patel (Journal Article: Technology Review) http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/21347/
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