The industrial revolution replaced wood for fossil fuels as the driver of the engine of progress, leaving living plants to take a back seat in energy production. Now, with the advent of a set of technologies known as synthetic biology, industry groups and the US Department of Energy are celebrating the advent of a new “bioeconomy” – an energy and materials economy in which products and processes previously derived from petroleum will be produced through the exploitation of biomass and biotechnology.
SUMMARY: "Algae are high on the genetic engineering agenda as a potential source for biofuel, and they should be subjected to independent studies of any environmental risks that could be linked to cultivating algae for this purpose, two prominent researchers say. Writing in the August 2012 issue of the journal BioScience, the researchers argue that ecology experts should be among scientists given independent authority and adequate funding to explore any potential unintended consequences of this technological pursuit.
SUMMARY: "Good biofuel crops can make great invasive species. That’s one of the findings of a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation. Growing Risk: Addressing the Invasive Potential of Bioenergy Feedstocks explores the challenges and policy solutions surrounding the use of non-native and potentially invasive bioenergy crops. Numerous non-native and genetically modified species are already being considered for use as biomass feedstocks.
The renewable fuels lobby has persuaded the U.S. Agriculture Department to approve the sale of seed corn genetically modified to speed production of ethanol. But that seed also threatens corn grown for human consumption.
The potentially costly decision reflects an unwise focus on biofuels that is already contributing to rising food prices. Food industry spokesmen warned that if this industrial corn cross-pollinates or becomes mixed with food corn, it could cause corn products to crumble and become soupy, leading to massive food recalls.
Have you ever thought about what you are going to put in your car's tank when petrol becomes prohibitively expensive as the world’s oil supplies start to dry up? And have you ever worried about the fact that the greenhouse gasses emitted by the car you drive every day make a massive contribution to climate change?
"No worries," you say. "We'll just convert all of our cars to run on biofuels!"
Indeed, biodiesel and bioethanol are often portrayed as the green and sustainable answer to our transport woes in an oil-free future. But how viable and eco-friendly are such biofuels really?