Biofuels researchers are increasingly thinking about how the energy market is changing, which challenges them to balance the basic science of new fuels with a more holistic view of the most commercially viable ways to produce them. So when a group of
In a paper published in Energy & Environmental Science,
"Most biofuels research has focused on small aspects of an entire bio-refinery," says
Huber focused on jet fuel in anticipation of a declining demand for gasoline. Hybrid and electric cars mean the biofuels sector might do well to focus less on the fuels that power lighter vehicles and more on heavy-duty fuels for trucks, planes, and other heavy machinery. "Unfortunately, you can't power heavy machinery with batteries," Huber says.
So in this context, papers like Huber's offer a chance for biofuels researchers to establish some long-term priorities.
"We found out that techno-economic evaluation helps in focusing in areas that make the most economic sense," Upadhye says. "We can use process design as a way to drill down on the areas that make most economic impact."
Just as importantly, experimenting with an integrated process helped the group figure out where the process needs to become more efficient. To be truly viable, the cost needs to come down from
Huber says the paper's findings will keep UW-Madison at the forefront as biofuels researchers continue to pursue better processes that industry partners can then scale up.
"The major lesson learned is that you can produce renewable distillate fuels using new technologies from biomass in an integrated process," Huber says. "The approach we outline here is a novel one that had not previously been used and is a lot cheaper than existing methods."
Other partners in the research included
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