Sustainable bioenergy project has global launch

University Park, Pa. -- "Global Sustainable Bioenergy: Feasibility and Implementation Paths" is a response to confusion and uncertainty on whether the world should look to bioenergy -- biofuels, heat and electricity -- as a prominent factor in meeting global energy needs.

Scientists from around the world are joining forces to seek resolution of issues related to sustainable production of energy from biomass.

"There are tremendous opportunities to integrate biomass production with food crops and forest management to enhance both economic and environmental outcomes," said Tom Richard, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering and director of Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

The three-stage project is led by Richard; Nathanael Greene of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who chairs the steering committee; and Lee Lynd of the Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College and Mascoma Corporation. The first stage of the project is a series of five meetings scheduled around the world beginning in November 2009 in Malaysia. In the first half of 2010 meetings will take place in the Netherlands, South Africa, Brazil and the United States. An 11-person organizing committee will oversee the meetings with international representation from academic, environmental advocacy and research institutions (engineering.dartmouth.edu/gsbproject).

"While there is a natural reluctance to consider change, we must do so since humanity cannot expect to achieve a sustainable and secure future by continuing the practices that have resulted in unsustainable and insecure present," Lynd said in a commentary in Issues in Science and Technology as chair of the GSB steering committee. "Most analyses involving biofuels ... have been undertaken within a largely business-as-usual context. In particular, none have explored in any detail on a global scale what could be achieved via complementary changes fostering graceful coexistence of food and biofuel production."

The second stage of the project will address whether it is physically possible to meet a substantial fraction of future world mobility and/or electricity demand from plant sources while still meeting other important needs like feeding humanity, preserving habitat and maintaining environmental quality.

The third stage addresses implementation paths -- technical, social, economic, political and ethical issues -- in developing policies and strategies for a responsible transition to a sustainable, worldwide bio-based society.

"The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay Commission have championed the production of next-generation cellulosic biofuel crops as a way to improve soil and water quality and enhance rural development," said Richard. "Penn State has been playing a leading role in analyzing that potential in our region, and with this new project we look forward to addressing the challenges and opportunities for bioenergy production in a global context."

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Last Updated May 18, 2012