As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

Biofuels – What’s Currently Being Researched?

There’s no doubt about it: there is only a limited amount of fossil fuel in the world. Even running around in hybrid or purely electric vehicles may only go part of the way towards solving the problem, depending on how the electricity used to power the cars in question is generated. If the electricity is generated by an oil-fuelled generator, electric cars merely move the issue of burning fossil fuels further along the production line.  If the electricity is generated using something sustainable, then that’s less of a problem.

Enter biodiesel and other biofuels.  Biodiesel is almost just like normal diesel except that it can be refined from vegetable and animal fats.  At the moment, these oils are a tad more acidic than regular diesel, so biodiesel, if used pure (B100) has a tendency to wear out the rubber hoses and gaskets inside your vehicle.  Car manufacturers are beginning to respond by making cars with bits that can handle biodiesel, but at the moment, only a few cars can handle pure B100.  The Saab 93 Biopower is one example.  Most require a blend, although this may be starting to change. Car manufacturers aren’t stupid.

The other main biofuel is ethanol, which can be mixed with petrol and used to power that sort of engine. Ethanol is an alcohol produced by fermenting suitably sugary feedstocks.  It’s really popular in Brazil, which has a massive sugarcane industry and all petrol in Brazil has at least 25% ethanol in it. We use a bit over here, too, also using waste from the sugar industry, although we don’t use as much as Brazil does.

However, all is not rosy in the world of biofuels and biodiesel. Yes, a good chunk of waste bits and pieces can be used to produce biodiesel and ethanol. However, leftovers aren’t going to be enough to power the world’s fleet of vehicles.  This means that feedstock will have to be grown somewhere. There’s only a limited amount of land, so feedstocks are going to compete for land and water (and other resources such as fertiliser and labour) with crops grown for human consumption and for animal consumption.  This is where a lot of research is being concentrated: how can we solve this problem?

Sorghum - a potential FFF plant.

Sorghum – a potential FFF plant.

One thing that is being researched in this area is finding suitable plants that are multipurpose – the so-called FFF (Food, Fodder and Feedstock) varieties. There’s been some pleasing results with varieties of sorghum, a grain used widely in Africa, where the grain is used for people, the leaves are fed to cattle and the sugary stems are used for ethanol production.  Research is looking into which varieties are the best and whether or not breeders can come up with the perfect variety. Sweetcorn is another potential FFF plant.  Along the same lines, they’re looking into plants that can be grown on not-so-hot land and thus taking up fewer resources – a recent paper published in the specialist journal Biotechnology for Biofuels proposed agave cactus as a possibility.

Another strand of research is looking into finding bacteria that do a great job of fermenting waste material and turning it into ethanol. If they can find some really good strains that can ferment just about any plant material, then this widens the scope for what can be used as feedstock.

The Jatropha bush.

The Jatropha bush.

On the biodiesel side of things, as well as hunting for crops that produce decent oil but don’t compete for resources too heavily.  So far, the best crop is the jatropha shrub, which doesn’t mind drought, is poisonous enough to not have many pest problems and produces a really oily nut. The leftovers after the nut has been pressed for oil can be used for other bits and pieces, such as pesticides, medicines (yep) and as an ethanol feedstock.  The issue here is that jatropha wasn’t originally a crop plant, so they’re working on finding good varieties that grow well on marginal land but produce a whacking big crop.

Also on the biodiesel front, they’re looking into algae. Some algae are oilier than you might think and could be used to produce biodiesel.  The good thing about algae is that they can be grown on land that’s useless for farming other things, and they can be grown on wastewater – settlement ponds at the local sewage works are looking very promising so far.  Of course, they’ve got to find the right strains of algae that produce the most oil, improve the extraction and harvesting process, and find a way to do all this commercially.

Algae even looks green.

Algae even looks green.

5 comments

  1. THOMAS MITCHELL says:

    Hello

    You are so wrong.

    http://www.hempcar.org

    Listen to bio-scientist Carey Burns on youtube. Our farmers could be making a fortune.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FTkW3BNgL8&list=PL27927EADCB71C2FC&index=21

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGZEMwMx2vk&list=PL27927EADCB71C2FC&index=6

    Hemp can produce 7600L per acre of ethanol ( 10 times that of corn). This can be non-THC and the leftovers can be cattle or human food, building materials

    6% of USA farmland with this density can make all the vehicle fuel even a nation like the USA uses.

    Also the C02 created when brunt is sucked up during growth. hem actually does not given up all its CO2 like many plants when harvested.

    Certain weeds when grown in sewerage can produce 35000L per acre of ethanol, so very council in Australia could basically run their vehicles from the sewerage works.

    Listen to David Blume in these two video’s about ethanol.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jew3ah24Zj4&list=PLuizMmlJq79mE-FtzyQCxeXE27WKwB5cM&index=3

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vq7km9TWL0&list=PLuizMmlJq79mE-FtzyQCxeXE27WKwB5cM&index=2

    Why are we not doing it, well too much big money lets use a polite word like successfully lobbying government

    We could stop importing oil and get rids ow rld parity pricing and have a huge economic boost.

    its real, when you know about the some of the 10,000+ uses of hemp, you can see why some people needed to find ways to side line it.

    You can make a whole car body out of it, bash it with a hammer and it wont dent.

    How can such a “manna from heaven plant’ be suppressed, that’s something you should be asking yourself.

    Regards
    Tom

    P.s. hemp cures cancer, plus can be done with the whole plant, no need to be conned into buying extracts.

    http://www.cureyourowncancer.org/how-cannabis-oil-works.html

    See Rick Simpson run from the cure. Ricks helps cure over 5000 people.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0psJhQHk_GI&list=PL27927EADCB71C2FC&index=15

    Kristen Courtney on LEAF, juicing marijuana.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qa0nLdVJiIg&list=PL27927EADCB71C2FC&index=31

    May 13th, 2014 at 5:07 pm

  2. THOMAS MITCHELL says:

    Also ethanol fuels cost are so viable we would probably halve our fuel costs.

    You get 4000L per acre 9 (6 times corn) from sugar cane and they burn the waste plant to make the processing plants. But you dont get all the other goodie’s left over from hemp. Most of the hemp grown in history has next to no THC.

    if you grow hemp and marijuana next to each other, the hemp is genetically dominant and weakens the THC yield in the marjiuana gowring next to it.

    Yes cannabis has different varieties with and without THC.

    Ethanol has less energy density but can run at much high compression ratio, or a via a higher gain turbocharger.

    Sweden also ready has an e85 network of 85 % ethanol , 15% petrol and Saab have 2 models for this fuel with 300 BHP from a 2L turbocharged engine

    Cars can be returned to run on ethanol.

    There would be no smog from cars in the world if we had

    People who run ethanol cars in the USA when the EPA test their exhaust pipe it hardly registers.

    In CA in the USA , 6% ethanol in fuel reduces monoxide production by 50%. Yes that little has such a big effect.

    In USA states that have legalized marijuana, road fatalities have gone down 10% as have male suicides.

    May 13th, 2014 at 5:16 pm

  3. E Jenkins says:

    Amazing that you can submit this article which overlooks ground breaking CO2 to diesel research in Israel currently being trialled for commercial development by a company listed on the Australian stock exchange.

    May 13th, 2014 at 5:35 pm

  4. Charles Boyd says:

    My son-in-law carts waste product from an ethanol producing facility which is fed to cattle in feed-lots. He told me , and I guess he heard this from the workers at the plant, that it takes more than a litre of diesel fuel to produce a litre of ethanol. This would include fuel used in producing sorghum which they use and the subsequent transport etc.
    If this is so it seems a scandalous waste of resources, to produce an inferior product.
    Would appreciate any comment you may have

    May 13th, 2014 at 6:37 pm

  5. John Aquilina says:

    There is plenty of resistance against Ethanol and Bio-Diesel. I have yet to fine ONE Mechanic who advocates the use of these fuels. They’ll say its OK but “don’t expect your engine to last”.

    There are some Manufacturers who also dont honour warrenty claims if E85 is used in an E10 car. My E85 Holden is always showing engine warning lights when filled with E85. These disappear when straight 95Ron fuel is used.

    May 14th, 2014 at 6:26 am