Issues Magazine

Articles about Energy

Biofuels and Competition in Australia

By Andrea Wild

Andrea Wild discusses competition between biofuels and alternative markets in the Australian context.

Our need for greener and more secure transport fuels is creating competition with food production, use of agricultural lands and even the manufacturing of soap.

Competition between food and fuel is perhaps the most prominent issue, with the biofuels industry blamed for everything from the rising costs of tortillas in Mexico and rapeseed oil in Europe to a shortage of hops in small-scale breweries in the United States.

Food Versus Fuel

Converting Biomass to Ethanol Fuel

By Tony Vancov

Tony Vancov reports on an alliance formed in NSW to investigate the establishment of a biofuels industry using novel feedstocks.

Global warming, a forecast decline in world reserves of crude oil, growing demand for petroleum products, inability to protect supply lines from international political intrigues and record crude oil prices (US$145 per barrel in June 2008) all ensure that the current frenzied efforts in biofuel R&D continues and remains in the public eye. Among these fuels, ethanol from renewable feedstocks is regarded as an ideal supplement and credible replacement fuel.

Transforming the World’s Energy Systems

By John Morgan

Three trends in world energy, and the way they play out over the next 50 years, will shape the boundaries of our civilisation.

Three trends in world energy are on a collision course: tightening of fossil fuel supply, the need to drastically cut our carbon dioxide emissions, and the increasing global demand for energy.

First- and Second-Generation Biofuel Technologies

By Stephen Schuck

How are biofuels produced from biomass, and can we produce enough for our energy needs?

Bioenergy covers the broad spectrum of heat and power, transportation fuels and chemical production. Biomass can take many and varied forms – from fairly dry (15% moisture content) to fairly wet (over 90% moisture content), including agricultural and forestry residues and food wastes. The focus here is on biofuels.

Biodiesel Breathes Better

By Leigh Ackland*, Linda Zou and David Freestone

It is long-established that car exhaust fumes cause respiratory disease, and more recently the particulate matter in diesel exhaust has been implicated in the death of human airway cells. However, new research reveals that biodiesel is a safer alternative.

Driving a vehicle is one of the most polluting activities that the average person carries out. More people are driving cars, with rapidly developing countries like China putting 1000 new cars on the street every day.

Furthermore, people in affluent countries are driving bigger cars today than they were a decade ago. Four wheel drive vehicles are a common sight in the inner suburbs of Australia’s cities, and these generally produce more greenhouse gases and other exhaust emissions compared with passenger cars.

Back to Nature: Making Molecular Biofuels

By Warwick Hillier

As the environmental and supply problems of fossil fuels loom, chemical reactions harnessed by nature are inspiring efforts to derive energy by emulating photosynthesis.

Imagine a line of 100 W incandescent light bulbs side-by-side all the way around the Moon and back. Switch them on and you would consume about 1 TW of electricity. Today we use 15 times that amount (15 x 1015 W).

In Australia and in most other developed OECD countries the per capita energy load is an average ~6–7 kW per person. This load takes into account more than household consumption – it includes energy for transportation, to produce the food we eat, and the farming practices, industry and manufacturing we rely upon.

Beyond Peak Oil: Will Black Gold Turn Green?

By Barry Brook

As the world glimpses the bottom of the (oil) barrel, Barry Brook ponders alternative fuels.

The modern world depends upon a vast legion of invisible energy slaves – the equivalent of 200 human workers per person for developed countries. Like servants of the kings of old, they service our every whim. From the food we eat to the cars we drive, our lifestyles are propped up by cheap, readily available energy. Oil.

Biofuels: A Roadmap

By Robin Batterham

Second-generation biofuels are a real prospect for Australia, according to a new report.

Recent world events have brought the issue of fuel supply into sharp focus. In no fuel sector does Australia have fewer obvious alternatives than in transport fuels, but one area of the transport fuels conundrum in which Australia seems positioned to advance strongly is in Generation 2 biofuels.

Biodiesel from Microalgae

By Kriston Bott and Sasi Nayar

South Australian researchers have adopted a business approach to biofuels. Their model presents microalgae as a promising second-generation biofuel feedstock for biodiesel production, not least because of its additional high-value bioproducts.

In Australia, fossil fuels provide the bulk of the energy being consumed exponentially by our growing population. Recent growth in fossil fuel prices has created increased interest in biofuels to meet growing energy needs. Environ­mental and fuel security issues are additional drivers for the current interest in this type of fuel source.

Biofuels are typically categorised as renewable alternative fuels that are produced from biomass. Biofuels include ethanol, biogases such as hydrogen and methane, bio-oil and biodiesel.

Biofuels or Food? Equity and Morality in Food and Technology

By Lindsay Falvey

Lindsay Falvey discusses the concepts of equity and morality in relation to food technologies such as biofuels.

Community concern about food ranges from food safety at home to the world’s undernourished. This diverse context for our technology is further compounded by wealth and knowledge.

The Case for Second-Generation Biofuels

By Glenn Tong

Biofuels have been pegged as the great hope for sustainable and “green” fuel. Policy-makers set targets for the replacement of fuel sold in petrol stations with biofuels. Recently, however, biofuels have received an onslaught of negative media publicity.

Criticism of biofuels centres around the competition between crops produced for first-generation biofuels and food. The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation commented that first-generation biofuels have had “a significant impact on world crop prices”. The report also called for government policies to be “urgently reviewed in order to preserve the goal of world food security, protect poor farmers, promote broad-based rural development and ensure environmental sustainability”.

Biofuels in a Clean, Green Future

By Ian Lowe

Ian Lowe examines the birth of the biofuels imperative and how biofuels fit into a sustainable future.

Biofuels are derived from living things. Historically, early human development relied almost entirely on wood, but the move to fossil fuels began when England became short of wood in the late 18th century. The shortage was primarily driven by massive use of wood to expand the navy, compounded by the effects of a growing population.

At the time, coal was considered an inferior fuel to wood. It was dirtier, more difficult to obtain and thus more expensive.

Biofuels: At What Cost?

By Derek Quirke, Tara Laan and Bob Warner

In recent years, governments of numerous countries have promoted industrial-scale production and use of liquid biofuels and backed that commitment with financial support. What form is such support taking in Australia, and is it cost-effective?

Biofuels have attracted particularly high levels of assistance in some countries given their promise of benefits in several areas, including agricultural production, greenhouse gas emissions, urban air quality, energy security, rural development and economic opportunities for developing countries. Such alleged benefits have enabled those promoting biofuels to assemble unusually broadly based support for fiscal and regulatory relief.

Biofuels Get Moving with Catalysis

By Rebecca Lesic and Thomas Maschmeyer

Catalysts and supercritical fluids can be key players in biofuel technology and in green chemistry.

Bioenergy a burning question for Tasmania's forests

By Stewart Williams and Russell Warman

With Australia trying to meet renewable energy targets and reduce emissions wherever possible, we should be considering bioenergy.

Bioenergy can be made by burning biomass in a variety of forms, including agricultural by-products such as rice husks, poppy seeds, sugarcane waste and manure. It can also be made from forestry by-products such as sawmill and wood wastes.


By Sally Woollett

Editor, Issues

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

But what if that multitude of energy slaves started to slip away into the night?

Worldwide oil supplies are the “energy slaves” referred to by University of Adelaide professor Barry Brooks in this biofuels edition of Issues (p.4). The crux of his question relates to “peak oil” – when the rate of oil production is at its maximum – and our response to it. How are we going to meet future world energy needs, in particular our need for fuel? Enter biofuels.