Sunday, August 28, 2011

Biofuels News

Huber-Wyman Aqueous Phase Hydrodeoxygenation

The simple process pictured above comes from researchers at UM Amherst and UC Riverside. It is an example of a relatively economical thermochemical approach to producing fuels from cellulosic biomass. Yields need improving, but give them time.

Meanwhile, Tulane U. researchers have discovered a mysterious bacterium they have dubbed "TU-103", which can produce butanol directly from newspaper biomass. The designation is apt for some type of secret weapon, and if the bacterium can provide economical yields, it may very well turn out to be just that. More here

Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin researchers have developed a process for producing potentially high-value furan derivatives from biomass. They are using a new type of solvent -- alkylphenols -- to help accomplish the sugar extraction phase.

US government investment into biofuels is ramping up, as is some private sector financing. Even the private sectors of Europe and North America are financing advanced biofuels research -- despite an ongoing global financial downturn.

There is abundant waste biomass in advanced nations -- from municipal waste, agricultural waste, forestry waste, etc. But for advanced biofuels to take an appreciable proportion of the fuels and chemicals markets away from petroleum, dedicated biomass crops must be available at economical costs and in plentiful supplies.

The most prolific type of biomass -- and the only type of biomass that can grow in abundance over at least 80% of the Earth's surface -- is algae (micro and macro). While the focus has long been placed on algal oils, it is algal biomass which offers the earliest promise for reduced cost / high yield advanced biofuels. Eventually it will be economical to utilise both algal oils and algal biomass for advanced biofuels.

The point of Al Fin Energy's biofuels coverage is to point out that the research and the infrastructure-building have barely begun to get started. Just as one cannot judge the potential of a human being's life work while he is still in the womb, one cannot judge the ultimate impact of advanced biofuels at this early stage.

Too many analysts confuse biofuels with wind and solar, and put them all into the same category of delusional green fantasies. That is a mistake, a rookie mistake. Try not to fall into that trap.

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