Driving into the Sunrise of a Sustainable Future

By Steen Riisgaard, CEO of Novozymes A/S

Deadly tornados, hurricanes, extreme and unexpected weather, melting glaciers — climate change is here. Regardless of the argument of who is to blame for it, global warming has sunk its warm claws into our planet, becoming the greatest global challenge of the 21st century.

Countering this challenge requires each one of us to do our share — use fluorescent light bulbs, choose renewable energy, use energy-saving appliances, drive less, drive fuel-efficient cars, use environmentally-friendly fuel.

In the large schema, many measures are being taken and are in the planning to fight global warming. Biofuel has emerged as one of the top warriors in this battle. Experts foresee that biofuels could achieve a 25% share of the liquid fuels market in the future.The biofuel industry today is based on first generation starch and sugar conversion — it is an environmentally friendly renewable energy source that is one of a few technologies available for limiting the negative impacts of road transport. Second generation biofuels will be made from what is deemed as waste matter, including corn stover, bagasse, and other agricultural and industrial by-products, but also energy crops like switchgrass, which binds more carbon and requires less fertilizer than traditional crops. The technology is still new and it will take about three to five years to make it commercially viable.

Biofuel reduces carbon dioxide emissions (second generation biofuel will reduce this by nearly 90%); creates jobs and stimulates development in rural areas and developing countries; helps alleviate poverty by improving economies; and, last but not the least, gives developing countries access to energy, a prerequisite for economic development.

However, the production of biofuel can do more harm than good if pursued irresponsibly. Some unfortunate impacts are difficult or impossible to entirely mitigate, and we may have to accept them as necessary costs in order to reap greater benefits. Most of these issues can be effectively tackled if developing countries as well as developed countries continue to actively promote the production of biofuel in environmentally and socially sustainable ways.

The international community must come together to exploit the benefits of biofuel and minimize any unfortunate impacts.

The biofuel industry can and will develop the technology to make commercial ethanol from cellulosic feedstock, which will increase benefits and mitigate costs. Politicians around the world must ensure that standards for sustainable biofuel production, including sustainable agricultural practices, are developed. A trustworthy global certification scheme for biofuels should be created and implemented as soon as possible. In addition, the academic community must supplement the industry in the quest to create innovative and sustainable solutions to counter global warming.

The end is not exactly near — but time is definitely up. We need to band together as a world community and save the planet; make sure we don’t melt glaciers while we tank up our cars.