Biofuels (2nd, 3rd generation)

The focus for this topic is advanced Second Generation Biofuels; Kelp/Seaweed and Algae Biofuels (NOT corn ethanol). For information on corn ethanol, see HERE and watch Climate Central's video called "Iowa: Corn and Climate" HERE. See also Wikipedia.


Background Information on Advanced Biofuels

Second generation biofuels: have been developed because first generation biofuels (e.g. corn ethanol) manufacture has important limitations. First generation biofuel processes are useful, but limited in most cases: there is a threshold above which they cannot produce enough biofuel without threatening food supplies and biodiversity. Second generation biofuels can help solve these problems and can supply a larger proportion of our fuel supply sustainably, affordably, and with greater environmental benefits. For example: Cellulosic Ethanol.

Kelp/Seaweed and Algae Biofuels:

Kelp (picture above) and other seaweed could be biofuels of the future, avoiding competition with food crops for land and scarce freshwater resources -- limitations that plague land-based biofuel prospects.

Researchers envision fast-growing cultivated kelp forests growing downward into the water, anchored on webs of rope, or porous sheets of material that roll with the waves. Offshore wind farms could be convenient places to grow seaweed biofuels in the future, some say.

Although algae is currently the most energy-dense biofuel source, the cost of producing algae oil is prohibitively expensive. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the biofuel would cost around $8 per gallon at the pump. 

However, a team of engineers plans to investigate whether algae commercially grown in the ocean on specialized platforms could reduce the high costs of biofuel production, potentially bringing our energy economy one step closer to shifting from fossil fuels to renewable resources.

Algae: During photosynthesis, algae and other photosynthetic organisms capture carbon dioxide and sunlight and convert it into oxygen and biomass. High oil prices, competing demands between foods and other biofuel sources, and the world food crisis, have ignited interest in algaculture (farming algae) for making vegetable oil, biodiesel, bioethanol, biogasoline, biomethanol, biobutanol and other biofuels, using land that is not suitable for agriculture. Among algal fuels' attractive characteristics: they do not affect fresh water resources, can be produced using ocean and wastewater, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled.

Algae can produce up to 300 times more oil per acre than conventional crops, such as rapeseed, palms, soybeans, or jatropha.

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Cellulosic Ethanol

Background article on cellulosic ethanol

Cellulosic ethanol is a biofuel produced from wood, grasses, or the non-edible parts of plants. Switchgrass and Miscanthus are the major biomass materials being studied today, due to their high productivity per acre. Cellulose, however, is contained in nearly every natural, free-growing plant, tree, and bush, in meadows, forests, and fields all over the world without agricultural effort or cost needed to make it grow.

WATCH VIDEO: Discovery News learns how wood can be transformed into green gasoline.

Producing lignocellulosic ethanol offers greater greenhouse gas emissions savings than those obtained by first generation biofuels. Lignocellulosic ethanol can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 90% when compared with fossil petroleum, in contrast first generation biofuels offer savings of only 20-70%.


This is a cellulosic ethanol reactor (Wikipedia)


Here is a VIDEO on poplar tree research for cellulosic ethanol -


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Other Information

EPA requirements for cellulosic ethanol cut


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