The Role of Biomass in America's Energy Future

author: Lee Rybeck Lynd, Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth
published: Sept. 16, 2013,   recorded: February 2006,   views: 22
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Farmers may be filling our tanks and heating our homes in coming years, if Lee Lynd’s vision pans out. Evolving technology can transform feedstocks like corn and soybeans as well as perennial grasses into energy and power. What he describes as “cellulosic biomass” holds the promise of replacing much of the fossil fuel we depend on, with a large number of positive side effects, according to Lynd’s complex equations. The biomass conversion process has “near-zero net greenhouse emissions,” because “before you return carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from a biofuel, you first have to remove it from the atmosphere in photosynthesis.” Another benefit: perennial grass may be grown both for livestock feed and for fuel, and when harvested, adds to soil fertility. Lynd allays concerns that a conversion to biofuels would lead to inadequate acreage for all of our resources needs, from food to biodiversity. If farmers integrate their crops to maximize both food and energy needs, and if vehicle efficiency improves, very little new land would be needed. “If we’re prepared to act as if this is important,” says Lynd, we can supply the U.S. mobility demand from biomass within the land currently allocated to agriculture.” We “can bury our heads in the sand,” says Lynd and try to “pretend that our energy challenges are not real,” or even pray for a miracle, but in his view, the best bet for securing a sustainable and secure energy future lies in innovation and change.

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