Friday, November 6, 2009

Biofuels: Biotechnology, Chemistry, and Sustainable Development

As the first biofuel to emerge into mass production, (bio)ethanol is discussed in chapter 1, the historical sequence being traced briefly from prehistory to the late nineteenth century, the emergence of the petroleum-based automobile industry in the early twentieth century, the intermittent interest since 1900 in ethanol as a fuel, leading to the determined attempts to commercialize ethanol–gasoline blends in Brazil and in the United States after 1973. The narrative then dovetails with that in Handbook on Bioethanol: Production and Utilization, when cellulosic and lignocellulosic substrates are considered and when the controversy over calculated energy balances in the production processes for bioethanol, one that continued at least until 2006, is analyzed. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 then cover the biotechnology of ethanol before the economics of bioethanol production are discussed in detail in chapter 5, which considers the questions of minimizing the social and environmental damage that could result from devoting large areas of cultivatable land to producing feed stocks for future biofuels and the sustainability of such new agroindustries. A particular subset of the microbes used for fermentations and biotransformations is those capable of producing ethyl alcohol — ethanol, “alcohol,” the alcohol whose use has both aided and devastated human social and economic life at various times in the past nine millennia.

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