Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have reported in the journal Nature that fructose, the sugar found in fruits, could be made into a fuel with a vastly greater energry output than ethanol.

The fuel, known as dimethylfuran, contains 40% more energy than ethanol.  The fructose used to make the fuel can be obtained straight from fruit, or made from glucose, one of the products of photosynthesis in plants.

In a separate study, British scientists have declared that biodiesel, made from palm oil, can also be made from all types of waste products, including weeds and plastic bags, in a process known as “biomass to liquid.”

But all this good news comes with some caveats.  Critics of the fructose biofuel argue that converting land from food production to fuel production will drive up food prices.  This might not seem like such a big deal in the US, but in poorer countries, people generally spend a larger portion of their income on food products than people in developed countries.
Scientists must still determine the environmental impact of burning these fuels.  A United Nations Energy report declared that a quick switch to biofuels could lead to forests being razed for plantations.  Forest ecosystems remove carbon from the atmosphere.  Removing forests, even for biofuel production, could lead to an overall increase in emissions.

The UN report recognizes the benefits of new biofuels, but it also recognizes that conversion must be slow and careful if it is to have a beneficial impact.

“The development of new bioenergy industries could provide clean energy services to millions of people who currently lack them, while generating income and creating jobs in poorer areas of the world,” the report states.

Yet it also warns that “Use of large-scale mono-cropping could lead to significant biodiversity loss, soil erosion and nutrient leaching.”
The report concludes that “Only through a convergence of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and water-use policies can bioenergy find its proper environmental context and agricultural scale.”

If this convergence occurs, fossil-fuel worries and environmental concerns may have the chance to abate, if even slightly.

Sources:

Fruit for Fuel

UN Warns of Impact

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