Jason Barton

Professional Information and Energy News

Doctoral Research

without comments

Biofuels have been touted as an environmentally friendly way to meet our demand for transportation fuels, as well as a potential boon to rural development.

Much of my earlier work focused on the agricultural side of feedstock production for biofuels.

Are they?

What methods would have to be employed to ensure that biofuels fulfill these goals?

Laws implemented in 2007 under the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, mainly the Renewable Fuel Standard, mandate increasing amounts of renewables in our transportation fuel supply, which today mainly means ethanol from corn. This current method to meet those mandates has already proven difficult, economically and in terms of energy efficiency and food security. Our priorities, be they lower costs, reducing carbon emissions, rural development, or others, will help to guide development and choices between corn, Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, and  other feedstocks and fuels.

The bottom line is the bottom line. The production methods that are most cost effective for producers and for consumers will be most widely employed. There may be some who are willing and able to pay a premium for organic, fair trade, or sweatshop-free goods, but most of us, most of the time, will pay as little as possible for the products we demand.

In the last year my work has focused more on the technical aspects of bioenergy conversion processes, from a variety of feedstocks to electricity and liquid transportation fuels.

Government subsidies to corn producers and ethanol refineries, along with environmental and other externalities, defray and obscure the true costs of corn ethanol production, causing me to question if it’s corn ethanol’s efficiency that has led to its prominence, or is it the effectiveness of their lobbyists?

Brazilian sugarcane ethanol was the most abundant renewable transportation fuel until it was surpassed by U.S. corn ethanol in 2005. Brazil still holds the second spot, and they are still the number one source of U.S. imported ethanol. A US$0.54 per gallon tariff inhibits imported ethanol from occupying a larger portion of our transportation fuel, but there are those in both parties of the U.S congress who favor reducing or abolishing this tariff to meet our renewable fuel standards (RFS).

How would this be for Brazil, economically, ecologically, and in terms of job creation and rural development?

This set of questions and realities provides a sort of case study for questions I have for agriculture, energy, and so many other areas that touch all of our lives.

This PhD program began with the general idea of studying the economic and ecological impacts of agricultural trade between Brazil and the U.S. Through two years of coursework and a long literature review process, it was narrowed during the first year to the subject of Brazilian ethanol production and the impacts of possible American importation.

I have to admit that when I first started working in bioenergy and when I moved to Brazil in 2002, I really had no idea what I was doing.

I would be happy to provide you with a brief abstract of my dissertation, as well as different versions of my research proposals according to your interests. The initial proposals are much broader assessments of important issues in Brazilian cane and ethanol production.

Currently my research is focused on Forest Code legislation, which contains mandates that agricultural producers in Brazil set aside portions of their land as forest reserves, as much as 30% of each parcel. This legislation provides a more focused frame through which to examine an essential aspect of this amazing country, which is quickly becoming one of the most important contributors to global supplies of food, energy, and other natural resources.

You can find more information on my past and current work on the “Research Proposals” and “Research Sites” pages.

Thanks for reading!

Photos by Bruno Andrade. Visit his site here.

Written by Jason

November 10th, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Posted in

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.