Assessing the economics of bioenergy

Posted on 19. Feb, 2015 by in Academic Departments, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Energy Independence, Issues, Magazine, Research

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 UW-Madison researchers began looking at how to make jet fuel from biomass, they also strived to create a techno-economic framework to illuminate the entire biofuels field.

In a paper published in Energy & Environmental Science, George Huber, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, and his collaborators mapped out an integrated approach for processing red maple biomass into a jet fuel that costs $4.75 a gallon. Supported by funding from the DARPA Office of Science, Huber’s study improves on previous research by factoring in the impurities of real biomass, an inefficiency that’s not accounted for in studies that use model compounds as a starting point. “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.”

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