Nav: Home

Barriers and opportunities in renewable biofuels production

September 11, 2018

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have identified two main challenges for renewable biofuel production from cheap sources. Firstly, lowering the cost of developing microbial cell factories, and secondly, establishing more efficient methods for hydrolysis of biomass to sugars for fermentation. Their study was recently published in the journal Nature Energy.

The study, by Professor Jens Nielsen, Yongjin Zhou and Eduard Kerkhoven, from the Division of Systems and Synthetic Biology, evaluates the barriers that need to be overcome to make biomass-derived hydrocarbons a real alternative to fossil fuels. 

"Our study is of particular interest for decision makers and research funders, as it highlights recent advances and the potential in the field of biofuels. It also identifies where more research is required. This can help to prioritise what research should be funded," says Eduard Kerkhoven.

It is technically already possible to produce biofuels from renewable resources by using microbes such as yeast and bacteria as tiny cell factories. However, in order to compete with fossil-derived fuels, the process has to become much more efficient. But improving the efficiency of the microbial cell factories is an expensive and time-consuming process, so speeding-up the cell factory development is therefore one of the main barriers. 

Professor Jens Nielsen and his research group are world leaders in the engineering of yeast, and in the development and application of computer models of yeast metabolism - as well as being noted for their world-class research into human metabolism, and investigations into aging processes and diseases. Their work informs how yeast can best be engineered to manufacture new chemicals or biofuels. In their article "Barriers and opportunities in bio-based production of hydrocarbons," the researchers investigate the production of various biofuels using a model of yeast metabolism. 

"We have calculated theoretical maximum production yields and compared this to what is currently achievable in the lab. There is still huge potential for improving the process," says Eduard Kerkhoven.

The other main barrier is efficient conversion from biomass, such as plants and trees, to the sugars that are used by the cell factories. If this conversion were made more efficient, it would be possible to use waste material from the forest industry, or crops that are purposely grown for biofuels, to produce a fully renewable biofuel. Eduard Kerkhoven notes how important biofuels will be for the future.

"In the future, whilst passenger cars will be primarily electric, biofuels are going to be critical for heavier modes of transport such as jets and trucks. The International Energy Agency projects that by 2050, 27 percent of global transport fuels will be biofuels. Meanwhile, large oil companies such as Preem and Total also predict that renewable biofuels will play an important role in the future. In their 'Sky Scenario', Shell expects that biofuels will account for 10 percent of all global end energy-use by the end of the century. That is in line with our research too," he concludes. 
-end-
Read more about the Sky scenario.Read the article by the authors Yongjin J. Zhou, Eduard J. Kerkhoven and Jens Nielsen in Nature Energy:
Barriers and opportunities in bio-based production of hydrocarbons

Chalmers University of Technology

Related Biofuels Articles:

Making biofuels cheaper by putting plants to work
One strategy to make biofuels more competitive is to make plants do some of the work themselves.
How to make it easier to turn plant waste into biofuels
Researchers have developed a new process that could make it much cheaper to produce biofuels such as ethanol from plant waste and reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Barriers and opportunities in renewable biofuels production
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, have identified two main challenges for renewable biofuel production from cheap sources.
How biofuels from plant fibers could combat global warming
A study from Colorado State University finds new promise for biofuels produced from switchgrass, a non-edible native grass that grows in many parts of North America.
Calculating the CO2 emissions of biofuels is not enough
A new EU regulation aims to shrink the environmental footprint of biofuels starting in 2021.
Algae cultivation technique could advance biofuels
Washington State University researchers have developed a way to grow algae more efficiently -- in days instead of weeks -- and make the algae more viable for several industries, including biofuels.
Cutting the cost of ethanol, other biofuels and gasoline
Biofuels like the ethanol in US gasoline could get cheaper thanks to experts at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and Michigan State University.
Cellulosic biofuels can benefit the environment if managed correctly
Could cellulosic biofuels -- or liquid energy derived from grasses and wood -- become a green fuel of the future, providing an environmentally sustainable way of meeting energy needs?
Making oil from algae -- towards more efficient biofuels
The mechanism behind oil synthesis within microalgae cells has been revealed by a Japanese research team.
WSU study finds people willing to pay more for new biofuels
When it comes to second generation biofuels, Washington State University research shows that consumers are willing to pay a premium of approximately 11 percent over conventional fuel.
More Biofuels News and Biofuels Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Debbie Millman: Designing Our Lives
From prehistoric cave art to today's social media feeds, to design is to be human. This hour, designer Debbie Millman guides us through a world made and remade–and helps us design our own paths.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#574 State of the Heart
This week we focus on heart disease, heart failure, what blood pressure is and why it's bad when it's high. Host Rachelle Saunders talks with physician, clinical researcher, and writer Haider Warraich about his book "State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease" and the ails of our hearts.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Insomnia Line
Coronasomnia is a not-so-surprising side-effect of the global pandemic. More and more of us are having trouble falling asleep. We wanted to find a way to get inside that nighttime world, to see why people are awake and what they are thinking about. So what'd Radiolab decide to do?  Open up the phone lines and talk to you. We created an insomnia hotline and on this week's experimental episode, we stayed up all night, taking hundreds of calls, spilling secrets, and at long last, watching the sunrise peek through.   This episode was produced by Lulu Miller with Rachael Cusick, Tracie Hunte, Tobin Low, Sarah Qari, Molly Webster, Pat Walters, Shima Oliaee, and Jonny Moens. Want more Radiolab in your life? Sign up for our newsletter! We share our latest favorites: articles, tv shows, funny Youtube videos, chocolate chip cookie recipes, and more. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.