June 17, 2024

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What is Cellulosic Biofuel?

Lately researchers are looking for every possible alternative energy source, this due largely to the world’s energy crisis and the condition of the environment. The top of the list is replacing traditional fossil fuels with alternative and renewable energy.

The main contenders for fuel substitutes are biomass fuels. Biomass fuels are derived from organic plant matter. Ethanol-based bio fuels are extracted from corn. Biodiesel is made up primarily of used vegetable oil and grease. Jatropha oil, which comes from seeds from the Jatropha plant, is also being used to make biofuels. Now added to the list is cellulosic biofuel.

Cellulosic biofuel is very revolutionary in biofuels; this is because it is not plant specific as with Jatropha and and can be generated from both living and dead organic plant matter rather than requiring crops to be grown specifically for the purpose of cellulosic biofuel production, such as ethanol needs corn.

The carbon content in cellulose is what makes it such a good candidate in the quest for biofuel. Cellulose is the most abundant carbon form present in biomass and accounts for around 50% of its weight. Cellulose can be found in most plant matter without the need for land space or water for irrigation giving cellulose biofuel its appeal.

Cellulose is a polysaccharide comprised of a six sugar carbon polymer. Because of its composition and its abundance, cellulosic biofuel is an attractive possibility for mass biofuel production.

The researchers at NASA are further exploring cellulosic biofuel as a viable fuel source. They are researching more efficient processes to convert cellulose to sugar. Once cellulose is converted to its sugar-based form it can be used for other purposes such as chemical agents, food and cellulosic biofuel.

However, the conversion to sugar is requires around 50 hours for the process to take place. You take labor costs and the energy to covert it, and you can see how costly it can become. With time also comes higher production costs. If it would be pssible to cut this process down to 5 hours it would see cellulosic biofuel become cost effective enough to be competitive in a global market.

What scientists hope to accomplish is to refine the process for easier extraction of the complex sugars from cellulose. Because the plant cell walls were designed in nature to be robust and to stand up to the elements, it makes it difficult to break down and extract. Researchers hope to make extraction easier by engineering plant cell walls.

Another hurdle in the production of cellulosic biofuel involves the improvement in enzyme efficiency. They plan to mimic enzyme behavior from animals that are the most efficient at breaking down cell walls such as herbivores like cows and sheep which they believe is the key to cost effective cellulosic biofuel production.

Some of the things we can do to help protect ourselves from increasing oil prices is to conserve what we have now, to use less, and to alter our energy consuming patterns. We need to look into alternative energy sources when they become available to us. If we do these things, cellulosic biofuel could be on the market in as little as 5 years.