In 2008, Robert C. Brown gave a presentation called “Why Are We Producing Biofuels” as part of the Iowa State University Presidential Lecture Series. Brown, the Iowa Farm Bureau director of the Bioeconomy Institute (BEI), has turned that talk into a book with the same title, just published in March 2012. He says the idea for the book came from Lawrence Johnson, an Iowa State professor and the person whom Brown credits with coining the term “biorenewables.”
“I was busy with research initiatives and new graduate courses,” Brown says of the time between his lecture and the book’s publication. His co-author and son, Tristan Brown, revived the effort. “He’s an attorney and brought an understanding of the social and political issues involved in the topic,” Brown says. Tristan is a research associate at BEI and teaches a graduate-level course on biorenewables law and policy.
Answers in Brief
Even though Robert Brown has written many technical books, the new book is his first aimed at a general audience. He hopes it’s read by educators, policy makers, business leaders, and anyone curious about biofuels. Brown has become a leading authority on biorenewable technologies and has been speaking to general audiences about the topic for a number of years. Indeed, Brown is one of the “Top 100 People in Bioenergy” according to Biofuels Digest. He is also an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and the Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State.
The book begins with a review of the state of biofuels and a brief history of the field. Called “Answers in Brief.” Each chapter in the book attempts to answer a question, such as “why do we need to end our addiction oil?” and “why are we developing advanced biofuels?” Throughout the book, the Browns use statistics, charts and graphs, both original and from outside sources, to illustrate their points.
One chart, for example, uses the analogy of a dropped rubber ball to compare the energy efficiency of petroleum, biomass and coal. And, in a chapter about alternatives to imported petroleum, the Browns temper the recent excitement of the Bakken Formation petroleum reserve in North Dakota by noting that it only represents six months’ supply of gasoline for the U.S.
Fueling the Discussion
The Browns also address the many controversies in biofuels, from the appropriateness of biofuels as a petroleum substitute and food versus fuel to greenhouse gas emissions and the sustainability of biofuels agriculture. The book also provides the background a novice might need to understand the place of biofuels in the overall energy picture, such as review of transportation fuels and an analysis of virtually all alternative energy options.
Much of the discussion about energy comes down to economics, and the Browns provide detailed cost histories and projections for both traditional and biofuels as well as the systems used to produce them. Although it’s not a textbook, the book contains three chapters explaining technologies for turning lipids and cellulose into biofuels and how to use heat to produce biofuels. These chapters are a primer in the agriculture, chemistry and engineering involved in creating biofuels from a number of feedstocks.
“Why Are We Producing Biofuels” can be purchased for $17.95 on the Web from: