Transportation | February 05, 2008 |
A Greener Biofuel
Converting waste biomass to transport fuels is one way to create cleaner energy sources, but fuel like ethanol is controversial because it has hidden costs, and amounts to subsidized food burning. The hunt for clean energy is now headed to forests and gardens, as CSIRO and Monash University have developed a chemical process that turns green waste into a stable bio-crude oil.
Bio-crude is similar to crude oil, in that it can be produced near the source and then transported to a central biorefinery for further processing. The bio-crude oil can be used to produce high value chemicals and biofuels, including both petrol and diesel replacement fuels.
While other biofuel systems use food – grains, corn and sugar – as an energy source, the “Furafuel” technology uses low-value waste such as forest thinnings, crop residues, waste paper and garden waste. So instead of getting dumped into a landfill or burned into the atmosphere, these materials can be put to good use. Plant wastes being targeted for conversion into biofuels contain chemicals known as lignocellulose, which is both renewable and potentially greenhouse gas neutral. It is predominantly found in trees and is made up of cellulose; lignin, a natural plastic; and hemicellulose.
Using non-food sources is the crux of current biofuel research, and technologists are looking high and low for materials that might fit the bill. LiveFuels Inc. and Sandia National Laboratories have teamed up to produce an economically feasible bio-crude by 2010 that uses algae as an energy source. The company speculates that all