Biofuel market to double by 2022

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon
Originally published at

New biofuel technologies are allowing commercially viable transportation fuel production from switchgrass, non-edible grains and fruits, from certain trees, and recently from the ‘stover’ or ‘dross’ of certain crops (stalks, roots, leaves, bark, nutshells, husks) and algae.

Algae is the new player on the block and once it is supercharged with common industrial waste gases (like CO2) it becomes an exceptionally pure and clean burning biofuel with no negative waste stream.

But some may feel that biofuels have little future due to dramatically falling oil prices and the improved fuel mileage of today’s cars

However, that’s not the case…

“China recently set aside an area the size of England to produce jatropha and other non-food plants for biodiesel.

India has up to 60 million hectares of non-arable land available to produce jatropha, and intends to replace 20 percent of diesel fuels with jatropha-based biodiesel.

In Brazil and Africa, there are significant programs underway dedicated to producing non-food crops jatropha and castor for biodiesel.” — Will Thurmond in his book, Biodiesel 2020

Three generations of biofuel are already on the market or are undergoing commercial testing as of 2014

  • 1st-generation biofuels are made from processed food crops such as corn, sugar cane and sugar beets
  • 2nd-generation biofuels are made from non-food crops such as camelina, jatropha, millettia and switchgrass, which can grow in semi-arid regions
  • 3rd-generation biofuels are made from algae + enzymes, or organic waste materials such as cardboard, stover, other biomass, or from waste gases and waste liquids from industry.

3rd-generation biofuels show the most promise and are progressing well along their production trials timeline — while 1st-generation biofuels still have major environmental and minor economic obstacles to overcome.

Meanwhile, 2nd-generation biofuel production is booming in many developing countries and investors are making excellent returns.

Dual fuel gas station at Sao Paulo, Brazil
As this photo demonstrates, you can fill up with 100% pure sugarcane ethanol (A) or gasoline/bio-ethanol blend (G). In Brazil, all gasoline is required by law to have a minimum bio-ethanol content of 22 percent. Image courtesy of Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz)

The global biofuel industry is entering a rapid phase of development

Total global biofuel production is projected to reach 66.3 billion gallons per year (BGPY) by 2022, and bio-ethanol is expected to hit 51.1 BGPY compared to biodiesel’s 16.2 BGPY.

According to a recent report from Navigant Research, worldwide revenue from biofuels for road transportation will grow from $166.5 billion annually in 2014 to $337.8 billion by 2022.

“Over the last 10 years, growth in the biofuels sector has been driven by the increase in ethanol production capacity in the United States and Brazil, and in biodiesel in Europe. Today, the industry is on the verge of entering a new phase of development focused on advanced and drop-in biofuels.” — Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research

“Given the scale of development to date and the crystallization of interests… widespread biofuels commercialization is no longer a question of if, but when.” — Biofuels Markets and Technologies report by Pike Research

A note about sugarcane

The following is true whether sugarcane is being harvested to produce table sugar or is being harvested to produce bio-ethanol

When sugarcane is harvested (every 5 1/2 months) the leaves, roots, etc. (also known as the ‘stover’ or ‘dross’ by farmers) is left on the ground and burned.

Millions of hectares of sugarcane fields go up in smoke, twice per year.

The people who can afford to leave the area during the twice-yearly burning are certain to leave as the unpleasant black smoke pervades those regions for up to two weeks, at two different times of the calendar year. Each year, a total of one month’s growing season is lost as the fields are burned.

This common practice releases millions of tonnes of CO2 and other gases (some toxic) into the atmosphere, causing a net loss for Earth’s atmosphere.

But even as burning millions of hectares of sugarcane fields measurably worsens the air quality of the Earth — hundreds of miles away from the twice-yearly burning in cities like São Paulo, Brazil for example (population 11.3 million) the urban air quality is dramatically improved year-round as a result of using bio-ethanol in the city’s millions of cars.

New technology to the rescue

Some foresighted bio-ethanol producers in Brazil are harvesting the sugarcane stover and processing it into biodiesel or bio-ethanol (depending on the enzyme used) in cellulosic biofuel reactors specially made for conversion of plant stover.

Total biofuel yields from stover are slightly lower than normal sugarcane biofuel production. But many farmers find stover biofuel produces fuel for farm use and they burn it to produce both heat and electricity to power the biofuel factory (during the twice-yearly biofuel or table sugar production run) and nearby homes (all year).

The Brazilian government is assisting farmers and thereby helping the Earth’s atmosphere by providing seed money and a mild subsidy to sugarcane farmers (regardless if the sugarcane is ultimately grown to produce table sugar or biofuel) to allow them to economically harvest and process millions of tons of stover, instead of burning it in the fields.

Properly targeted policies now, can have maximum impact on the promising economic and environmental future of biofuel.

World Health Organization Air Pollution Report | One in Eight deaths from Air Pollution

by John Brian Shannon.

Seven million premature air pollution related deaths — World Health Organization Air Pollution Report

A March 25 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) says that 7 million premature deaths were caused by air pollution in 2012. That’s one of every eight deaths worldwide. “This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.” — WHO report

Air pollution is contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent that modifies the natural characteristics of the atmosphere. Household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities and forest fires are common sources of air pollution. Pollutants of major public health concern include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. Outdoor and indoor air pollution cause respiratory and other diseases, which can be fatal. — World Health Organization

The report clearly delineates between indoor and outdoor air pollution. A large percentage of deaths occur as wood, coal, or kerosene are used as fuel for indoor stoves in the developing world. These rudimentary cooking and heating stoves emit relatively large quantities of soot, particulates and toxic gases. Not to mention comparatively large quantities of CO2 — and while carbon dioxide itself is not a toxic gas it can displace oxygen in enclosed areas within a house for example, causing death by asphyxiation.

Women and Children at highest risk

Women and children tend to suffer most and levels are often significantly higher than outdoor pollution measurements. Indoor air pollution is responsible for 2 million deaths per year, according to the report.

Air pollution is a major environment-related health threat to children and a risk factor for both acute and chronic respiratory disease. While second-hand tobacco smoke and certain outdoor pollutants are known risk factors for respiratory infections, indoor air pollution from solid fuels is one of the major contributors to the global burden of disease. In poorly ventilated dwellings, indoor smoke can be 100 times higher than acceptable levels for small particles. Exposure is particularly high among women and young children, who spend the most time near the domestic hearth.

“Cleaning up the air we breathe prevents noncommunicable diseases as well as reduces disease risks among women and vulnerable groups, including children and the elderly. Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.” — Dr Flavia Bustreo, WHO Assistant Director-General Family, Women and Children’s Health

A solution to the millions of deaths in recent decades caused by indoor pollution is the replacement of inefficient wood-burning, coal-burning and kerosene stoves, with electric stoves. For that, 1.3 billion people living in remote regions unserviced by electrical grids in Africa, Asia, and parts of South America will need either standalone energy power plants in the form of Solar Home Systems (SHS) or microgrids to generate and deliver clean electricity for electric stoves and heaters.

World Health Organization Air Pollution report. Chart shows the causes and effects of airborne pollution. Image courtesy of WHO
World Health Organization Air Pollution report. Chart shows the causes and effects of airborne pollution. Image courtesy of WHO

Outdoor air pollution levels continue to increase

The growing outdoor air pollution problem is also a contributor to the millions of premature deaths from outdoor airborne emissions. Urban outdoor air pollution alone is estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths annually.

Outdoor air pollution is large and increasing a consequence of the inefficient combustion of fuels for transport, power generation and other human activities like home heating and cooking. Combustion processes produce a complex mixture of pollutants that comprises of both primary emissions, such as diesel soot particles and lead, and the products of atmospheric transformation, such as ozone and sulfate particles. — WHO

Transportation Sector must reduce emissions, now

To reduce the millions of premature deaths caused by outdoor emissions, doubling the automobile fleet miles per gallon, per country, would halve the amount of outdoor emissions emitted by the land transportation segment. Switching from diesel to algae biodiesel (which can emit up to 80% fewer toxic pollutants) can dramatically improve the air quality in cities. And both gasoline vehicles and diesel vehicles can be manufactured or converted to run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). New, CNG-burning Honda cars are available for sale in the U.S. and Japan, while many truck fleets in the U.S. and Europe are switching to CNG or CNG+diesel power in an effort to lower costs, extend engine life, and reduce emissions.

The global shipping segment also emits large amounts of CO2, toxic gases and particulates. Emissions from ships may be especially harmful to human health due to the high levels of toxic gases, soot, and particulate matter which are a byproduct of burning so-called ‘bunker fuel’. Biofuel development is underway to help mitigate the damage caused by the world’s shipping lines to the atmosphere. Commercial aviation adds a similar total amount of CO2 to the atmosphere, but soot and particulates are less concerning with aviation fuels as much cleaner fuels are used for aviation. Increasingly, commercial airlines and the U.S. military are switching to biofuel+conventional petroleum blended fuels. Boeing reported that it’s jets produced 80% lower emissions when blended biofuels were used in test flights.

Electric Vehicles emit zero emissions

Cars like the Nissan LEAF and the Tesla Model S are stunning the world with their sales and performance — and their zero emissions for the life of the car. In North America and Europe, Tesla provides free charging for the life of the car via a growing network of charging stations which are often solar powered. Which means zero ‘fuel’ cost for the life of the car, if the owner chooses to recharge at one of the free Tesla ‘SuperCharger’ charging locations. Both the LEAF and the Tesla Model S boast a >95% recyclability rate.

The Nissan LEAF has sold over 100,000 units since it’s introduction, while the Model S is limited to only 30,000 per year (for now) due to a lack of manufacturing capacity. The latest Tesla vehicle, the Tesla Model X has a growing ‘waiting list’ of 12,000 people, and each one of them have paid a minimum deposit of $5,000. as far back as 2013 and are prepared to wait until 2015 if necessary, for their new Tesla electric vehicle.

It will get worse, before it gets better

For now, the annual death toll due to airborne emissions will continue to rise. By 2017, the yearly premature death toll will become a staggering number, much worse than 2012’s one-in-eight and will be a set of statistics difficult for many to comprehend.

Our health is in our hands

Many of us have the opportunity to become part of a better future by the choices we make now. Gas-guzzler, or economy car? Burning fossil fuels indoors, or switching to electric heaters and electric stoves? Burning plastic rubbish, or taking it and other recyclables to the recycling station? The choice is ours!


A list of specific diseases caused by indoor and outdoor air emissions from the report:

Outdoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:

  • 40% — ischaemic heart disease;
  • 40% — stroke;
  • 11% — chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD);
  • 6% —- lung cancer; and
  • 3% —- acute lower respiratory infections in children.

Indoor air pollution-caused deaths – breakdown by disease:

  • 34% — stroke;
  • 26% — ischaemic heart disease;
  • 22% — COPD;
  • 12% — acute lower respiratory infections in children; and
  • 6% —- lung cancer.

Related links provided by the World Health Organization