Will These 4 Biofuels Be Bonanzas or Busts?
(Discover) …(A)recent series of articles from Nature News feels like a public service, as the articles investigate the scientific and economic state of affairs for four different kinds of biofuels.
The first article focused on the weedy plant jatropha, which was initially hailed as a biofuel wonder plant because it can survive in poor soil and harsh conditions, and because of its extremely oily seeds. But recently, investments in jatropha projects have fallen off dramatically. Environmental scientist Robert Bailis says that “over the past three years, the investment got way ahead of the plant science.” … Early investors are now realizing the plant’s limitations. Jatropha can live in very dry conditions, but doesn’t necessarily yield a lot of seeds.
… The big hurdle (algae) companies now face is scaling up their operations, and finding out whether processes that work in the lab also function on massive, commercial level.
Cellulosic ethanol, meanwhile, was expected to already be a dominant part of the biofuel market by now. … Companies are now experimenting with ways to bring down the cost of ethanol production,…
…(T)ransforming woodchips and other biomass not into ethanol, but into an exact replica of today’s gasoline in a process called “biomass-to-liquid.” Many see promise because, unlike other biofuels, this product would blend smoothly into today’s petrol-driven infrastructure…. The technologies required are known but need refinement: they rely on breaking down biomass, such as sugar molecules, which can then be handled in conventional refineries to produce petrol, diesel or jet fuel. But the catalysts needed to convert the biomass to useful hydrocarbons are still being developed. READ MORE