BioEnergy Landscape



BioEnergy Landscape:

From Photosynthesis to Fossil Fuels to Advanced Biofuels

 - Fundamentals and Future Challenges -


M. Kostic, Professor Emeritus 

Department of Mechanical Engineering


DeKalb, IL 60115-2854, USA

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Energy and Environmental landscape could be substantially enhanced with improved efficiency and diversification of energy sources, devices and processes. The renewable biomass energy and development of synthetic hydro-carbons, with balanced global CO2 emission, will be very important if not critical for substitution of fossil fuels since they are natural extensions of fossil fuels, and the existing energy infrastructure could be easily adapted. Biofuels are particularly promising for energy storage and use in transportation to replace fossil fuels.

Energy is the cause for all processes across all space and time scales, including global and historical changes. Energy is both the cause and consequence of formation and transformation within the universe at the grand scale, down to the smallest sub-nano structures within an atom nucleus and electromagnetic radiation - everything we are capable of observing and comprehending.

Zooming in through the space and history from the formation of our planet Earth some 4.5 billion years ago, it has been changing ever since due to energy exchanges or “energy flows” in different astrophysical, geological, thermo-physical, electro-chemical, biological, and intellectual processes. Hundreds of millions of years ago, life emerged from the oceans and transformed the landscape. Just a few million years ago the first human species evolved and began their own process of interaction with the environment, our planet Earth. About one million years ago our own species, homo sapiens, first appeared, strived most of the history and boomed with agricultural and industrial revolution, after learning how to harvest, control and use energy.

All energy coming to the Earth surface is 99.98 % solar, 0.018% geothermal and 0.002% tidal-gravitational. About 18 TW (Tera-Watt, or 2.4 kW/capita, i.e. per person) the world energy consumption rate now, represents only 0.008%, a tiny fraction of the solar energy striking Earth, and is about 6 times smaller than global photosynthesis (all life), the latter is only 0.05% of total solar, and global atmospheric water and wind are about 1% of solar energy. As an ultimate energy source for virtually all natural processes, the solar energy is available for direct ‘harvest’ if needed, and is absorbed by vegetation and water surfaces on Earth, thus being the driving force for natural photosynthesis, and in turn for biosynthesis processes, as well as natural water cycle and all atmospheric processes.

The biomass can be transformed to biofuels and bioenergy using thermal, chemical, and biochemical conversion. The first generation biofuels, bioalcohols and biodiesels, are made from the sugars and vegetable oils derived from arable crops, using conventional technology. In comparison, the second generation, advanced biofuels are made from lignocellulosic biomass, like woody crops, agricultural residues and diverse waste, using more advanced technologies.

The sustainable development and use of biofuels, although alone not a comprehensive energy solution, can contribute to energy security caused by spikes of fossil fuel cost, critical waste management, and help to slow down climate change. The challenges, particularly for the fast developing countries, are to support bioenergy development with responsible economic policies to ensure the sustainable economic commercialization.

Let us not be fooled by lower oil prices now due to unforeseen technological development and economic recession! If the man-made Global Warming is debatable, the two things are certain in not distant future: (1) the world population and their living-standard expectations will substantially increase, and (2) the fossil fuels’ economical reserves, particularly oil and natural gas, will considerably decrease. The difficulties that will face every nation and the world in meeting energy needs over the next several decades will be more challenging than what we anticipate now. The traditional solutions and approaches may not solve the global energy problems. New knowledge, new technology, and new living habits and expectations must be developed to address both, the quantity of energy needed to increase the standard of living world-wide and to preserve and enhance the quality of our environment.

However, regardless of imminent issues about the fossil fuels and related environmental impact, the outlook for future energy needs and environmental sustainability is encouraging. Energy conservation “with existing technology” (insulation, regeneration, cogeneration and optimization with energy storage) has real immediate potential to substantially reduce energy dependence on the fossil fuels and enable use of alternative and renewable energy sources. There are many diverse and abundant energy sources with promising future potentials, so that mankind should be able to enhance its activities, standard and quality of living, by diversifying energy sources, and by improving energy conversion and utilization efficiencies, while at the same time increasing safety and reducing environmental pollution.

After all, in the wake of a short history of fossil fuels’ abundance and use (a blip on a human history radar screen), the life may be happier after the fossil fuel era

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Brief Biography of the Speaker:


Milivoje M. Kostic, Ph.D., P.Eng., Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Northern Illinois University, Licensed Professional Engineer in State of Illinois (USA) and Editor-in-Chief of Thermodynamics of Entropy Journal, is a notable researcher and scholar in energy fundamentals and applications, including nanotechnology, with emphasis on conservation, environment and sustainability. He graduated with the University of Belgrade highest distinction (the highest GPA in ME program history), obtained Ph.D. at University of Illinois at Chicago as a Fulbright scholar, appointed as NASA faculty fellow, and Fermi and Argonne National Laboratories faculty researcher. Professor Kostic also worked in industry and has authored a number of patents and professional publications, including invited articles in prestigious energy encyclopedias. He has a number of professional awards and recognitions, is a frequent keynote plenary speaker at international conferences and at different educational and public institutions, as well as member of several professional societies and scientific advisory boards.

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