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Technology & Innovation

Almost There: Large-Scale Production Of Biofuels From Waste

Engineers and scientists have struggled for years to figure out how to turn waste products into significant quantities of fuel. Two companies say they’re closer than ever before to solving this problem.

What’s the Latest Development?

Two US plants are reported to be within weeks of being able to produce large quantities of “cellulosic” biofuel from wood waste. The KiOR plant, based in Missouri, uses a process that “does in a few seconds what takes nature millions of years: removes the oxygen from the biomass and converts [what remains] into molecules that can then be processed into gasoline and diesel fuel” that they say they’ll start shipping by the end of the month to clients such as FedEx. Ineos’ plant, based in Florida, “cooks” wood waste until it breaks down into molecules that are then eaten by bacteria, which excrete ethanol. 

What’s the Big Idea?

These plants — and others that are several steps behind — are all focusing on non-food crops as the source of the fuel, which some believe would end any food vs. fuel arguments when it comes to energy. However, there are still several hurdles companies must clear, including perfecting the process to a point where it’s both reliable and affordable. There’s also the possibility of a drop in oil prices, and a waiving of the government mandate requiring mixing of gasoline and biofuels in response to current high corn prices. However, experts believe that “eventually renewable motor fuel could have a much bigger impact on the…economy than renewable electricity from wind farms or solar cells.”

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