ECS member and Ohio University professor, John Staser, was recently granted $1.5M from the U.S. Department of Energy for biofuels research. Staser and his team will work to develop technology to make biorefineries more efficient and profitable, thereby reducing the cost of environmentally friendly biofuels.
Biofuels are combustible fuels created from biomass. Currently, they are the only viable replacement to petroleum transportation fuels because they can be used in existing combustion engines. Biofuels are typically produced from food crops (sugar cane, corn, soybean, etc.) or materials such as wood, grass, or inedible parts of plants. Ethanol and biodiesel are prominent forms of biofuels that offer an alternative to such transportation fuels as petroleum and jet fuel.
Staser will lead an interdisciplinary team to develop ways to process a class of complex organic polymers known as lignin, which is one of the many waste products produced in the biorefining process.
“It’s not really competitive with gasoline, especially if oil is $40 a barrel,” Staser says. “Before this biofuel becomes feasible, we have to find a way to reduce the manufacturing cost. One way to do this is to come up with a secondary revenue stream for the refinery. So, if biorefineries could waste lignin to do so, biofuel would become a more financially feasible option.”
This grant represents a push by the DOE to develop an alternative to fossil fuels without cutting into food supplies.
“Right now, there are only a few commercial biofuels, like biodiesel and corn ethanol,” Staser says. “Those fuels face problems like infrastructure compatibility, sustainability, and questions of using feedstocks for food or fuel. The Department of Energy is interested in fuels that avoid those problems, like second generation advanced hydrocarbon biofuels that are generated from non-edible feedstocks, like crop waste.”