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Question
Hi Mr Stevens,
I am a student in grade 12 currently studying in Australia. Currently, for my Society and Culture studies, I am doing an investigation into whether “Biofuels are a viable source of energy for Australia” and I was wondering what your thoughts were on the production and use of biofuels. Do you think that the disadvantages of Biofuels outweigh the advantages of it and whether producing Biofuels requires more energy than Biofuels produce. I would also like to know what your own personal opinion is on Biofuels and whether they are, or will become a viable source of energy in the future.
Thank you,
Vivek

Answer
Hi Vivek -
I'm sure you've by now found plenty of credible, cite-able info on the biofuel questions.

My engineering observation is that, on average, biomass that is combusted directly or converted to a liquid or gaseous bio-fuel and then combusted, emits more CO2 than the fossil fuels it replaces. That's before counting the CO2 produced in growing, harvesting, transporting the biomass, which would add to the total CO2 released.

I'll leave it to you to investigate and draw your own conclusions on the more difficult question: What are the net benefits, if any, of the main alternative, which is to let biomass waste decompose in or on the earth, while continuing to use coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, and the many forms of renewable energy.  Hint: It depends in part on how fast the waste biomass decomposes.
Good luck!
Bill  

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W.A. (Bill) Stevens

Expertise

I can explain the technical and economic tradeoffs of making electricity from natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, and biomass energy sources. I'm familiar with air pollution control technologies, including CO2 capture and sequestration. I have a good understanding of the science on global warming and can explain how energy use inefficiencies and various fuels and technologies contribute to that process. I can tell you why we have to build more new gas, nuclear, wind, and solar power plants, but will still have to keep using coal for a few decades to make elctricity. I can explain energy conversion efficiency and power plant operations. However ... I'm not an electrician, so probably cannot help with questions on motors or wiring. ;-)

Experience

Forty years as a registered professional mechanical engineer.

Education/Credentials
Graduate of Purdue University, School of Mechanical Engineering.

Past/Present Clients
EPA, DOE, State Department, USAID, World Bank, Bechtel Power Corporation, U.S. Generating Company, numerous electric utility and independent power companies.

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