Biotech: A Serious Energy Source?

I don’t know much about biofuels, but I’m usually skeptical when I hear it proposed as a really significant source of energy. Could biofuel be produced on a scale similar to the production of petroleum-based fuels? I usually picture a gushing oil well, spewing thousands of gallons of crude oil, and then try to imagine a factory fermenting biomass to turn out biofuel at a similar rate. Hard to picture.

Maybe my pessimism was unjustified.

Here’s a bit of info about the potential for producing biofuels in large quantities, in a story from Cleantech Group, LLC: Biorefineries alive and well, say experts.

…ZeaChem plans to break ground on its first biorefinery in eastern Oregon by the end of the year, and has a contract with Portland, Ore.-based GreenWood Resources to provide a dedicated crop of poplar trees (see ZeaChem starts work on first biorefinery).

The company’s first commercial facility, expected to open in 2013, plans to generate 25 million gallons of ethanol per year, with larger follow-on facilities pumping out 100 million gallons per year, Eggeman said. ZeaChem plans to sell the ethanol to petroleum companies to blend directly into fuel…. [emphasis added]

Some quick online research suggested that a traditional oil well might produce something on the order of a few million gallons of crude per year (I don’t know how much actual gasoline that would be reduced to.) So at least the numbers cited above, if accurate, suggest that my knee-jerk skepticism was unwarranted.


About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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