The bio-based economy

By Maureen Aylward

With bio-this and bio-that in the lingo so much these days, we wanted to ask our Zintro experts how they defined the bio-based economy. Here is what they said.

Larry Johnson, a consultant to the ethanol and bio-fuels industry, says the bio-based economy is one that uses renewable plant materials to replace energy, fuels, and chemicals currently made from coal and petroleum. “We have experienced a century of fossil-based economics that was based on the fact that coal and oil were inexpensive and easily obtained,” says Johnson. “The reality of $100 crude and the political knowledge that much of the world’s oil supply is controlled by unstable and hostile governments has created the demand for alternatives. We are now on the leading edge of historic change as biochemistry is able to economically process cellulosic plant materials into materials previously dominated by petrochemical feed stocks.”

Johnson says the changes to both the US and the world economies will be profound. “Bio-fuels will influence world powers as natural resources and modern agricultural practices offer opportunities to those countries that allow incentives and resources to encourage production. The US has the opportunity retain the $400 billion currently spent on imported oil for purchase and processing of domestically produced biomass,” explains Johnson. “This will create new wealth and economic activity in rural areas, taking some development pressure of urban areas. New local companies and entrepreneurs will develop businesses, refine the economics, and eventually consolidate and sell out to corporations, including existing oil companies.”

John Zolotas, an energy engineer and consultant says that we need to make a distinction between a bio-fuels based economy and a bio-sustainable economy. “Bio-fuels, though very greenhouse gas friendly, use up a great deal of useful land that can cause a number of serious side effects, such as food-price increase, deforestation, and decarbonization,” says Zolotas. “Bio-fuels must be derived from waste, not agricultural land, in order to bio-sustainable in the long run.

Zolotas says that huge economies like China base their rapid development at the cost of the environment. “China is lacking regulations and/or control and in combination with extremely cheap and willing labor this is leading to the same mistakes advanced countries made in the 20th century,” he says. “Any effort to create bio-economies will have to include developing countries. Environmental leaders in European countries may be the first to set the standards for a bio-sustainable economy.”

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