This is a guest post composed as part of the NSF Science: Becoming the Messenger workshop, Lawrence KS January 27, 2011
Are you thinking about a high priced camera, bright lights and some makeup? Well that’s not what’s going to enable us to make the critical decisions that will be necessary to decide our energy future. More specifically the biofuels picture is complex and can be quite overwhelming at first look. There are any number of possible liquid biofuels that we may be putting in the gas tank of our next vehicle. You may have heard of Ethanol, Biodiesel. There are many other options that exist and many more that will become the next best thing in the near future. Each of these are produced from different feedstocks and will require different processes in order to be feasible and scalable.
Considering the limited amount of resources available to bring these fuels to scale, decisions will have to be made. This is where modeling enters the picture. There are a number of efforts underway that are attempting to understand these trade offs. One notable effort is the Joint BioEnergy Institute’s effort. The questions that it tries to address help guide the development of future candidate fuels. At the University of Kansas, the Feedstock to Tailpipe effort, of which I am a part, has brought a team of scientist together from a myriad of disciplines that will help to answer many questions that will enable this modeling as well. More interestingly there are a number of global models, like the International Institute of Advanced System Analysis’s Integrated Modeling Framework, that could eventually enable a predictive evaluation of what competing processes will be viable in a changing world. In order to make informed decisions in the future we will have to model. This modeling is not quite as glamorous, but it has to be done. - Ilya Tabakh