A Chalmers University of Technology study has identified two main challenges plaguing renewable biofuel production from cheap sources.
The first involves lowering the cost of developing microbial cell factories, and the second calls for the establishment of more efficient methods for hydrolysis of biomass to sugars for fermentation.
The study led by Professor Jens Nielsen, Yongjin Zhou and Eduard Kerkhoven, has evaluated the barriers that need to be overcome to make biomass-derived hydrocarbons a real alternative to fossil fuels.
“Our study is of particular interest for decision makers and research funders, as it highlights recent advances and the potential in the field of biofuels. It also identifies where more research is required. This can help to prioritize what research should be funded,” says Kerkhoven.
Though biofuels are being produced from renewable resources by using microbes such as yeast and bacteria as tiny cell factories, the process has to become much more efficient if they are to compete with fossil-derived fuels.
In their article “Barriers and opportunities in bio-based production of hydrocarbons,” Nielsen and his research group have investigated the production of various biofuels using a model of yeast metabolism.
“We have calculated theoretical maximum production yields and compared this to what is currently achievable in the lab. There is still huge potential for improving the process,” says Kerkhoven.
The other main barrier is efficient conversion from biomass, such as plants and trees, to the sugars that are used by the cell factories.
If this conversion were made more efficient, it would be possible to use waste material from the forest industry, or crops that are purposely grown for biofuels, to produce a fully renewable biofuel.
“In the future, whilst passenger cars will be primarily electric, biofuels are going to be critical for heavier modes of transport such as jets and trucks. The International Energy Agency projects that by 2050, 27 percent of global transport fuels will be biofuels,” says Kerkhoven.
Image and content; Pixabay-Pexels/Chalmers University of Technology