Biofuels not optional, says Dale

Bruce Dale recently stated the case for biofuels in a letter to the editor countering another professor’s piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
By Susanne Retka Schill | October 15, 2012

Bruce Dale recently stated the case for biofuels in an op ed article countering another professor’s piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Dale, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Michigan State University, is best known in ethanol circles for a cellulosic ethanol pretreatment process dubbed AFEX.

The letter is well written with clarity and a simplicity of argument that would be wise for other’s to emulate. Some examples: “[He] criticized ethanol’s supposed negative air-quality effects, but did not mention that gasoline contains carcinogens. Ethanol is not carcinogenic. He criticized the supposed impact of ethanol on food prices, but did not mention how increased ethanol supplies reduce petroleum prices and thereby hold down a major cost of food production: the cost of oil. He states that it takes nearly as much energy to produce ethanol as is released when ethanol  is burned, but not that we get more than 20 times as much liquid fuel energy from ethanol than is contained in the oil required to make ethanol.”

Dale goes on to explain some of the points in an argument he’s been honing of late: that biofuels are not optional. I found this link on the website for a presentation he gave last January.

He takes a closer look at energy, pointing out energy use strongly influences, even determines, national wealth and human development.  The services we need from energy are heat, light and mobility. “Industrial society literally stops without liquid fuels,” he pointed out in the January presentation. “Liquid fuels: not ‘energy’ is the key national and economic security issue.”

The only renewable source of high-energy-density liquid fuels is plant material, he states in the op ed piece, quickly defining what biofuels are made from and explaining the promise of cellulosic biofuels. “If we stay the course, this second-generation biofuel industry can grow rapidly, providing energy security, environmental benefits, and the many social and economic benefits that accompany energy consumption. However, a stable policy environment is required before a large second-generation biofuel industry can emerge. It will take decades to make the renewable-energy transition. So we must be patient. But the longer we wait to make that transition, the more likely it is that both our generation and future generations will be poorer, less-healthy and less-educated.”

I emailed Bruce to compliment him on the nicely done op ed piece, and posed a question I’ve been pondering for a while. His response will be the topic of another blog soon.