Back in the early days of mass-produced biofuels, corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel were all the rage. But criticism about food vs. fuel and scalability abounded and, by 2008, cellulosic ethanol became known as a so-called second-generation-biofuel and, maybe, the answer to our oil-addicted prayers. Blame Congress, blame the economy, heck, blame T. Boone Pickens if you want to, but the fact of the matter is that in the two years since cellulosic ethanol's big appearance, large-scale production of cellulosic ethanol has yet to reach levels that resemble anything close to significant. Still, first and second-gen biofuels account for 99% of today's global biofuel production.
So, while the Gulf of Mexico starts to resemble the bruised arm of a heroin addict, let's skip ahead to future biofuel technologies that, if they work, really could signal the beginning of the end of oil. Namely, 3rd and 4th generation biofuels.
What are 3rd and 4th generation biofuels? According to a new 150-page report available for the low-low price of $1,495 from GreenTech Media Research, 3rd-generation biofuel is basically advanced algae-based biodiesel while 4th-generation biofuels are created using petroleum-like hydroprocessing or advanced biochemistry. One such technology is the "solar-to-fuel" method (pictured above) developed by Joule Biotechnology which sounds pretty cool. In their model, sunlight, waste CO2 and engineered microorganisms combine in a "solar converter" to create fuel.
The summary of the report goes on to conclude that, by 2022, biofuels will account for almost eight percent of global oil volumes used for transportation. That may not sound like a lot, but it does represent a multi-hundred-billion-dollar market. Bring it on.