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A giant leap to nowhere: Part One

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Arguably, the technology challenges of producing cellulosic transportation fuels should have been easily resolved by now because these challenges are obviously not as difficult to conquer as the technology challenges of putting a man on the moon. However, the AFPM claims that it’s not that obvious.

Starting point

In 1961, President Kennedy promised that the US would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. It tool just over eight years to accomplish the task.

However, by the time President Kennedy made his promise both the US and the Soviet Union had already put a man in the Earth’s orbit and the US had been firing rockets into space since the 1940s. The promise came 35 years after Robert Goddard launched the first liquid fuelled rocket. The US still had to manage the problem of a soft lunar landing, but getting into space was already solved.

In contrast, when Governor Schwarzenegger signed California’s AB 32 in September 2006 there was no comparable technology development for cellulosic fuels. At the time, the technology to make ethanol from sugars had been around for centuries and was well known, and this sugar-based technology had been used or proposed for fuelling internal combustion engines for decades. But making ethanol from sugars is still too carbon intense to accomplish the objective of AB 32 – and it is cellulosic fuels that are expected to fill the gap.

Technologies to convert cellulose to liquid transportation fuels did not exist in 2006. AB 32 was based more on a concept and a desire than on a visible technology platform, the AFPM highlights.

Adapted from a blog post by Emma McAleavey

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