Biofuels are nowadays very controversial, even if they promise a lot. That is why Adam Wong – who helped me for the preparation of the interview and who filmed it – and I took the chance to talk to a very up-to-date researcher in the fields. At the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing, we interviewed Philippa Usher from the University of Leeds. The brilliant Ph.D student from the Energy Research Institute is specialized in low carbon technology and more specifically, in microalgae biofuels. Her research, as she explains in the interview, focuses on Brazil where biofuels are already produced on a large scale.
Biofuels from corn seem to have been in vogue lately. This is especially true in the United States, where the Navy just paid $12 million for a Pacific fleet this summer, reopening at the same time the debate. But are biofuels really a sustainable and practical solution to our energy problem? Is it responsible to continue in that direction, especially with cars, while other possibilities could be and are being developed to avoid using fuel or biofuel? The concept of biofuels is not a new one and it is not just in the last decade that it came to the mind of some car producers to use ethanol to run their machines. In fact, Henry Ford planned to have his Model T running on ethanol, which is a type of biofuel, already back in 1906.
Can biofuels still be the magical solution to our energy problems? Thousands of scientists will admit that biofuels are no longer a new concept (in fact, it is a very old idea). From the ‘first generation’ ethanol to the ‘second generation lignocellulosic’ biofuels and the latest algae-based biofuels, scientists and researchers are trying their best to find the best biofuels solutions. But with controversy shrouding if they’re actually sustainable means that biofuels are still debated hotly. Opposition to biofuels mainly revolves around concerns that are mainly related to the sustainability aspects of their development and manufacturing.