Modeling for the future energy landscape…

By The Intersection | January 27, 2011 5:31 pm

This is a guest post composed as part of the NSF Science: Becoming the Messenger workshop, Lawrence KS January 27, 2011

Are you thinking about a high priced camera, bright lights and some makeup? Well that’s not what’s going to enable us to make the critical decisions that will be necessary to decide our energy future. More specifically the biofuels picture is complex and can be quite overwhelming at first look.

There are any number of possible liquid biofuels that we may be putting in the gas tank of our next vehicle. You may have heard of Ethanol, Biodiesel. There are many other options that exist and many more that will become the next best thing in the near future. Each of these are produced from different feedstocks and will require different processes in order to be feasible and scalable.

Considering the limited amount of resources available to bring these fuels to scale, decisions will have to be made. This is where modeling enters the picture. There are a number of efforts underway that are attempting to understand these trade offs. One notable effort is the Joint BioEnergy Institute’s effort. The questions that it tries to address help guide the development of future candidate fuels. At the University of Kansas, the Feedstock to Tailpipe effort, of which I am a part, has brought a team of scientist together from a myriad of disciplines that will help to answer many questions that will enable this modeling as well. More interestingly there are a number of global models, like the International Institute of Advanced System Analysis’s Integrated Modeling Framework, that could eventually enable a predictive evaluation of what competing processes will be viable in a changing world.

In order to make informed decisions in the future we will have to model. This modeling is not quite as glamorous, but it has to be done.

– Ilya Tabakh


Comments (7)

  1. anonomous

    This article is great. Thanks for your insight.

  2. Smurfette

    I think this is interesting because there is a lot of debate in the defense community about biofuel usage. It seems that any effort we can make to stem the use of fuels from unfriendly countries is a good one, but there are also investment issues at stake. I hope politicians and the public realize the importance not just of supporting alternative fuels, but choosing the best cost/benefit ratio to protect our national interests.

  3. Pb

    Pretty good article!

  4. Geoff

    This article and and the study by the, “Think Tank,” Rand has sparked a mass flood of anger within the military. The military wants to try to find ways to save fuel and thinks biofules are a major step in systems that are not easily or cheaply changed from gas/diesel to some alternative form of energy (ala Ships and planes). Since military research in the past has been a driver of innovation the research and the push-back from it may be of interest here.

  5. AnnaBella

    Thanks for the insight. All this talk of fuel makes me miss my car. Oh well, I shall have to stick to my gallivants on the metro…

  6. speedwell

    If biofuels can be made from CO2 rich exhaust, say, from coal fired thermal electric plants and algae, that would be best. Biofuels made from chopping down tropical forests, or by irrigating crop land or ruining natural carbon sinks (bogs) are definately not helping us in the long run. WE do need modelling, caution, intelligence and some old fashion self restraint.

  7. Ilya Tabakh

    Speedwell, I agree with the majority of your points. One thing I would mention is that it is important to consider what the total carbon gain or loss is. That is my concern with using CO2 exhaust, because if it’s being taken from a fossil source then it still results in an overall addition to atmospheric levels.


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