November 13, 2011
Although biofuels have been debated as a feasible energy source, their growing use has proven successful across multiple terrains and with multiple benefits. Biofuel methods have already been implemented in different regions of California, and should continue to expand because of the evident economical, environmental and health benefits that are occurring.
Northern California can successfully expand the use of biofuels through forestry residue sources. Studies in the Sierra Nevada have concluded that slight removal of forestry residues for biofuel use helps reduce wildfires and greenhouse gas emissions and shifts our dependency off of fossil fuels. Additionally, Biofuel is the only alternative fuel, according to the Clean Air Act, that has achieved the health-effects testing requirements. The heavily forested regions in northern California make forestry residues a very feasible source of biofuels.
In Ventura County, California, ARIES Biofuel Technology has launched an incredibly successful biofuel system for military and governmental jets. Through collaborative innovation, Aerojet, the Biodiesel Industry Inc. and the Navy created ARIES’ central facilities that utilize non-food feedstocks, jatropha and algae biofuels. This economically and environmentally progressive method could easily be implemented on a more local scale through governmental advocacy. Additionally, Extreme Green Technologies, Inc. has also been launched in Corona, California, encouraging local implementation and participation in the use of biofuels. It focuses on private purchase of waste vegetable oil and algae-based biodiesel. California has incredible potential to use the entire coast for transforming algae into a feasible biofuel.
Algae is important because as land for agricultural purposes is a growing concern with an increasing population, algae doesn’t use up terrestrial space. Algae as a biofuel has some controversy, however. Even though algae seems like a better option because it isn’t a big threat to food security or soil degradation, the net productivity has been proven to be low on some accounts. One article mentions synthetic photosynthesis as a future alternative that could eventually “convert sunlight into liquid fuels directly.” Even if algae does not have high biofuel yields, the large ocean supply has incredible capacity. It could also be combined with other biofuel sources such as crop or forest residues, ARIES biofuel technology system, or even synthetic photosynthesis to make an extremely successful net productivity.
Another plant that is providing incredible biofuel success internationally is the Jatropha genus. Jatropha “is a genus of different succulent plants [and] shrubs” that is a beneficial biodiesel source in its native lands; the Philippines, Brazil and India. It is a very powerful source of biodiesel because of its drought and pest resistance. The seed content of Jatropha is also very high in oil, and other remains of the seed are feasible energy sources, too. Jatropha has been productive when used in a mixed cropping system. The only concern is introducing this alien species in a land where the net yield and environmental impact is unknown. They have high productivity potential, though, if managed in a sustainable manner and in appropriate ecosystems. In the past year, Jatropha has even started to become a successful source of airplane biofuel for New Zealand, China and Mexico. These plants are also economically feasible because, like algae, they do not sacrifice food resources for fuel sources.
All of these sources still need further research to determine the most productive way to manage and implement these systems. Increased prices of fossil fuels, however, will undoubtedly help these biofuels become more popular. Legislation however, needs to continue providing support, incentives and definitive goals for these cleaner, more sustainable, energy sources. Current imprecise government regulations could let the biofuel business find loopholes or counter-productive methods. If emphasis on economic benefits, job incentives and sustainable practices increases, biofuels will successfully become a dominant source of California energy.
About the authors: Liam Sharkey and Katie Graves are undergraduate students in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.