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Biofuel Innovation: New Methods and Materials Increasing Production

Researchers have been working on substitutes to fossil fuels for decades and are now able to create fuel out of many natural materials other than extracted petroleum. These “biofuels” can be used in any vehicles and other engine-powered machinery that use normal gasoline or diesel. Their popularity is increasing too. In 2011, the United States produced 861 million gallons of biodiesel, up from 309 million gallons in 2010 and even higher than the previous peak of 678 million gallons in 2008. More production means more investment, which is why scientists are ardently searching for new methods and materials with which to produce biofuels in more efficient and environmentally friendly ways.

Faculty members from Lakehead University in Canada have developed a system that generates biofuel from the liquid waste produced by pulp mills. Use of this material – usually burned off or sent to treatment plants – may be a great way to create new jobs in the Pacific Northwest.

Another waste product being considered for conversion to biofuels is orange peels. Typically thrown away by companies after being squeezed for juice, they are sent to landfills or burned, directly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. With new processes these peels can be used to not only produce biofuels, but also biologically-based solvents, fragrances, cosmetics and even water purifiers.

Finally, a team of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute have identified a fungus capable of breaking down indigestible plant material. Through fermentation it is hoped that this “white rot fungus” may be able to generate biofuels from current industrial and agricultural leftovers. It may even be able to be used for environmental bioremediation, breaking down hazardous contaminants in soil and water into benign components.

Happily, we have multiple solutions to the problem of fossil fuel rarefaction. Identifying the situation and need for new answers was the first step; now we simply must think outside the box and innovate  to find effective, efficient, environmentally responsible ways to take on this issue. And an excellent solution might just lie with the ability of governments and companies to recycle raw materials and byproducts previously considered rubbish.

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