The sprint to supply automakers with heavy-duty lithium batteries is propelled by climate-conscious countries like the United States that aspire to abandon gas-powered cars and SUVs. They are racing to secure the materials needed to go electric, and the Biden administration is under pressure to fast-track mammoth extraction projects that threaten to unleash their own environmental fallout.
Extraction proposals include vacuuming the ocean floor, disturbing marine ecosystems; and mining Native American ancestral sites and pristine federal lands. Proponents of these proposals argue that China controls most of the market for the raw material refining needed for the batteries, posing economic and security threats. But opponents say the negative environmental impact will be worse than the oil fracking that electric vehicles are projected to replace.
As we search for fuels that won’t contribute to the greenhouse effect and climate change, biofuels are a promising option because the carbon dioxide (CO2) they emit is recycled through the atmosphere. When the plants used to make biofuels grow, they absorb CO2 from the air, and it’s that same CO2 that goes back into the atmosphere when the fuels are burned. In theory, biofuels can be a “carbon neutral” or even “carbon negative” way to power cars, trucks and planes, meaning they take at least as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as they put back in.
A major promise of biofuels is that they can lower overall CO2 emissions without changing a lot of our infrastructure. They can work with existing vehicles, and they can be mass-produced from biomass in the same way as other biotechnology products, like chemicals and pharmaceuticals, which are already made on a large scale.… Most gasoline sold in the U.S. is mixed with 10% ethanol.
Biofuels can be created from any sort of organic commercial waste that is high in carbohydrates, which can be fermented into alcohol locally. Unlike the waste fryer oil and grease used to generate biodiesel, carbohydrates are supplied by plants in abundance. Methanol, the simplest form of alcohol, can be made from any biomass – anything that is or once was a plant (wood chips, agricultural waste of all kinds, animal waste, etc.). In the US, 160 million tons of trash ends up in landfills annually. Estimates are that this landfill waste could be converted to 15-16 million gallons of methanol.
In the third in a series of national assessments calculating the potential supply of biomass in the United States, the US Energy Department concluded in 2016 that the country has the future potential to produce at least one billion dry tons of biomass resources annually without adversely affecting the environment. This amount of biomass could be used to produce enough biofuel, biopower, and will bioproducts to displace approximately 30% of 2005 U.S. petroleum consumption, said the report, without negatively affecting the production of food or other agricultural products.