Biofuels: The Second Generation

richard_branson_biofuelRichard Branson via Virgin Fuels invests in biofuels

Biofuels refer to any form of “energy derived from biological carbon fixation.” Biomass of some sort. And they hold promise for the future.

Bioethanol is alcohol fuel: Sugar cane derived ethanol now provides 25% of Brazil’s transportation fuel by mandate. Biodiesel can augment diesel fuel in cars and trucks; those are the ones that smell like French fries. “Green diesel” is a refined form of biodiesel through a hydro-cracking, refinery process using elevated temperatures. Solid biofuels – such as wood chips – are used in power plants and boilers.

Here comes the “second generation” of biofuels: Cellulosic ethanol uses a sustainable, non-food feedstock to produce liquid fuels. There’s algae fuel and bio-hydrogen. Scientists continue to research carbon fixation, growing Jatropha and other tree species whose “elite hybrid seeds” maximize yields.

The U.S. Energy Department on January 3 announced $10 million in funding to five projects in California, Maryland, Texas, and Washington that will develop innovative technologies to convert biomass into advanced biofuels and bio-products. They use synthetic biological and chemical techniques to convert biomass into processable sugars that are then transformed into bio-products and drop-in biofuels for cars, trucks, and planes.

Two of these projects will develop cost-effective ways to produce “intermediates” from the deconstruction of lignocellulose, a structural material that comprises much of the mass of plants. “Biofuel intermediates” are biomass-based products that can be treated as commodities and passed from a producer to a refiner through the supply chain, before being processed into biofuel. Three projects will propose new conversion techniques to transform biomass intermediates into advanced biofuels and bioproducts.