One of the most obvious needs for bioindustrial technology is the direct application to energy markets via biofuels.
A big push for alternative energy sources comes from a desire for greater energy security. Governments are looking at political concerns in oil producing countries – and are worried about what would happen if geopolitical factors interrupted even fractions of the oil supply. Such events could trigger an economic tidal wave, where oil prices spike, transportation costs shoot up, food prices jump, and economies struggle. Non-oil producing countries are worried about how they would fuel military operations if the oil supply were interrupted during critical security conflicts.
Accordingly many different actors (Governments, venture capital, large strategic companies) began to explore alternatives that can help dampen the impact of an oil supply upset. Greenhouse gas emissions, and considerations around sensitivity to this and other environmental issues, are much more recent variables in the larger equation. How do you stop this big economic shock if something big were to happen? The oil economy is at such an enormous scale, no single approach would likely be sufficient, so what materialized was that a number of different approaches were incented.
Wind, solar, hydro-electric, higher-efficiency (both for homes and vehicles), electric cars, and the first generation biobased alternatives were investigated and encouraged. This broad approach was undertaken because what few people can really comprehend is how massive oil is.
Most people can’t even fathom how much oil is actually used. It is not practical to consider scenarios where oil is eliminated completely. There is just no way you can eliminate the dramatic economic and political influence of oil, it is gigantic. It is very difficult to visualize how much is out there, and how pervasive it is in industry, our homes, or our daily activities.
So the whole shift to biofuels that began, and is driving the emergence of 2nd Gen Biofuels today – is all about how you meaningfully dampen the impact of an upset in our established reliance on oil.
In the biofuel space, governments initially incentivized corn and cane ethanol plants in order to whet the appetite of the consumer for something different — an alternative to petroleum. Corn and cane routes to ethanol were already established technologies. The industry knew corn ethanol wasn’t going to be the long-term play, but it was quick to implement and get the “bio-appetite” going. Then the government threw out a great deal of funding to look for better alternatives. Large strategic companies followed suit, with private entities partnering with educational institutions. With all of the tools of modern chemistry and biology, a broad range of technologies were developed to create chemicals and fuels from something other than petroleum, largely focused on using sugar. To realize these technologies and significantly expand these markets, we need large volumes of low cost sugar to achieve greater impact.