Lab Creates New Biofuels to Expand Alternative Energy Sources
by Allison Ong (Daily Bruin) … UCLA researchers have been using bacteria, microscopic organisms responsible for disease and digestion, to convert living matter into liquid fuel. (Paul) Lin, a chemical engineering graduate student, is one of many students who work to synthesize eco-friendly biofuels that could expand our options for renewable energy.
James Liao, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at UCLA, said he thinks little-known bacteria such as Lin’s Clostridium thermocellum may hold the key to powering the cars, trucks and planes of the future.
“Ethanol is the only biofuel on the market right now,” said Liao, who studies cellular metabolism using biochemistry and genetic manipulation. “We should place priority on the development of alternative energy sources.”
Fuels powering a majority of today’s automobiles produce carbon emissions, which contribute to the layer of dangerous greenhouse gases trapping heat within Earth’s atmosphere, Liao said. He added biofuels produced from saltwater algae, agricultural crops or even landfill waste have the potential to be more cost-effective and up to 15 times more fuel-efficient than diesel fuel derived from crude oil.
But before researchers can introduce biofuels to the commercial marketplace, they must first overcome a number of scientific roadblocks.
This month, (Deepak) Rajagopal received a grant from the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge to investigate where Los Angeles’ waste is distributed, and how we can best produce biofuels using state resources.
“In California, where we have a shortage of land or a shortage of water, we can rely on agricultural waste or municipal waste (for fuel),” Rajagopal said.
Biofuel is produced in some California cities such as San Diego and Stockton, added law professor Ethan Elkind. Elkind, associate director of the California Climate Change and Business Research Initiative at UCLA, has organized workshops with policymakers and businessmen to discuss solutions to land use, energy storage and rising sea levels.
Last month, Elkind collaborated with UC Berkeley School of Law professors to argue the biofuel industry can create job opportunities for California residents with state support. Elkind said he thinks biofuels could potentially alleviate pollution from petroleum-powered cars. Transportation is LA’s biggest source of pollution, he added.
“We’ve certainly looked at electric vehicles as a great option … (but) electric transport is not going to cover everything,” Elkind said. “We think biofuels are a very promising way to power our transportation needs.” READ MORE