As part of the activities surrounding this past weekend's Detroit Grand Prix, General Motors hosted a panel discussion on biofuels. The panel consisted of GM VP Beth Lowery, Joel Valesco of UNICA (the Brazilian sugar cane industry trade group, Michigan State University Professor Bruce Dale, former World driving champion Emerson Fittipaldi and Randy Kramer, CEO of KL Process Design Group. We all know that GM is a big proponent of ethanol as an interim step toward energy Independence until electrically driven vehicles become mainstream. We're also equally aware of the issues with corn-based ethanol production. Clearly GM has a vested interest in promoting ethanol and didn't invite any biofuel critics to participate.

The panelists discussed the food vs. fuel question at length and Kramer and Valesco in particular downplayed the issue. Kramer's company is the first to operate a commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plant, with a facility in South Dakota that uses wood waste for fuel production. Valesco noted that less than one percent of the arable land in Brazil is dedicated the production of cane for ethanol. He also noted that Amazon deforestation can't be blamed on ethanol because the region is too wet. Cane will grow in all tropical areas but needs sustained dry periods in order to produce the sugar necessary for ethanol.

Nonetheless a couple of very important themes emerged from the discussion. One was that a collective will is necessary in order to implement an ethanol distribution infrastructure. The second and more important is the idea of zero radius design. The idea is that ethanol (or other fuel production) needs to be close to the raw material source and distribution should be more localized. The implication here is that the types of fuels used would be more regional and based on what sources are locally available.

[Source: Green Fuels Forecast]

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