Biorenewables, the bio-based economy and sustainability

Editors: Richard Templer and Luuk van der Wielen

This issue of Interface Focus introduces readers to research into the use of plants to supply mankind with renewable energy and material resources. This field is given the general name of biorenewables research, but over the past few years it has come to public attention through media coverage surrounding one type of biorenewable product, liquid biofuels. Biofuels research lies at a complex set of interfaces, where the worlds of research and innovation meet those of business and politics. This is a difficult arena in which to work at the best of times, but when the world is urgently seeking to develop truly sustainable energy resources to combat climate change, the quality of scientific advice will be at a premium. Mankind can ill afford to make mistakes in the technologies it pursues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because crops use photosynthesis to convert atmospheric CO2 into the organic compounds that are used to generate biofuels, it appears that biofuels should be able to eliminate anthropogenic CO2 emission from internal combustion engines. This simple idea has been at the heart of the arguments in favour of exploiting plant biomass for liquid fuel. Of course this picture is an oversimplification, since the complete process of generating the fuel is, in general, not free of greenhouse gas emissions. The promise of biofuels as a climate change mitigation technology, therefore, rests upon the technology's ability to maintain very low levels of greenhouse gas emissions in its production. This collection of peer-reviewed papers spans a number of continents and gives some impression of the scope of activity in biofuels across the globe.

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