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Issue: Jan 2013


Will advanced bio-fuels outperform oil from fracking?



by Bob Brooks

A recent front page story in the Wall Street Journal states that a “shale-oil boom will help the U.S. overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020.” The source for this information is the International Energy Agency which has kicked off worldwide interest in the recovery of petroleum via fracki

While petroleum oil may indeed take on a new position along with natural gas in the overall energy picture thanks to fracking technology, it must be considered that the latest developments in bio-based liquid energy are also making competitive gains untroubled by fracking difficulties.

If one researches problems associated with fracking, it is clear why many analysts say, “not so fast”. Limitations on fracking include the large amounts of valuable water and chemicals needed to release trapped oil. As a result of complaints about the contamination of water supplies, petroleum oil fracking companies are under heavy pressure to find solutions to the method’s environmental negatives.

The use of large quantities of water for fracking coincides with declining reserves of ground water for agricultural and municipal use. Similar problems are associated with food crops used to make fuel, and the indirect land-use concerns of some bio-fuels.

A possible solution to this issue may be a new bio-fuel made with abundant salt water, solar energy, nutrients, limited land use, and no biomass. Microorganisms fed with waste CO2 secrete fuel continuously, leading to a viable fuel production system. A leader in this field is Joule Unlimited based in Hobbs, N. Mexico. Joule’s first full-scale, privately funded production plant, built by the Fluor construction company is now up and running.

Also vying for position as a sustainable, environmentally friendly bio-fuel is the bio-oil produced by KiOR in Columbus, Mississippi. KiOR has based its technology on supplies of Southern Yellow Pine which is abundantly available due to a decline in the Southern paper industry.

While oil fracking may promise an increase in the U.S. petroleum supply with related U.S. energy security and economic advantages, it comes with costly environmental baggage. By comparison, bio-oil derived from microorganisms and available resources has insignificant environmental negatives and provides a use for excess CO2.

According to a study by the Environment America Research & Policy Center Frontier Group (Boston), oil from fracking may become less than an optimum route to clean energy. The study found that: “A growing body of data indicates that fracking is an environmental and pubic health disaster in the making. 



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