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Analysis and Comment (21)

From tree to biofuel in few steps. From tree to biofuel in few steps. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Green combination helps turn wood into biofuels

Turning wood and agricultural waste into biofuels is one step closer to being a truly green process, according to a recently published study in the journal Science. James Dumesic of the University of Wisconsin-Madison…
Touch of salt needed, I think. Touch of salt needed, I think. Heng Sinith/AP

Improving cookstoves will help save lives - and the planet

Around three billion people in the world, largely in developing countries, rely on fuels like wood and charcoal for cooking and heating in the home. But burning these biomass fuels, not least in confined…
Show me the green: Tetraselmis suecica algae viewed under a confocal microscope. Show me the green: Tetraselmis suecica algae viewed under a confocal microscope. Emily Roberts/Swansea University

The next ‘black gold’ could be green

Leave a glass with nutrient-rich pond water on a sunny window sill and within a day or two it will have turned a very vibrant, verdant green. This apparent alchemy has less to do with chemistry and more…
Algal genes are introduced into tobacco cells that grow into plants. Algal genes are introduced into tobacco cells that grow into plants. Peggy Lemaux/UC Berkeley

Tobacco re-imagined as a future fuel source

Tobacco doesn’t immediately conjure up ideas of fuel for cars and planes. But that’s precisely what a three-year, $4.8m project from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E PETRO (Plants Engineered to Replace…
Wheat-free: fields full of quick-growing miscanthus grass, an energy-rich biofuel. Wheat-free: fields full of quick-growing miscanthus grass, an energy-rich biofuel. Andrew Parsons/PA

Food first, fuel second is the UN’s message on biofuels

Critics of the conversion of plants into biofuel have long argued that it is an issue of food versus fuel‎, and a recent UN report gives some weight to their argument. Since the amount of maize needed…
Hartmut Michel discussing the future of energy production and storage. Hartmut Michel discussing the future of energy production and storage. 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

Nobel laureate: the world is waking up to biofuel shortcomings

Hartmut Michel won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1988 “for the determination of the structure of a photosynthetic reaction centre”, which helped reveal details of one of nature’s most useful processes…
Algae synthesisers – a new crop for biofuels, without the need for land. Algae synthesisers – a new crop for biofuels, without the need for land. Kirsten Heimann

Explainer: what are algal biofuels?

The problem we face with fossil fuels being ultimately a finite resource has exposed our need for renewable fuels. But research is underway on new and more environmentally-savvy ways to fuel our growing…
Canola is harvested on a property near Wallendbeen NSW. Canola is harvested on a property near Wallendbeen NSW. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Explainer: what are biofuels?

Since the beginning of civilisation, humans have depended on organic materials - or “biomass” - for cooking and heat. Many developing countries in Asia and Africa still do. Biofuel or bioenergy is the…
Sunlight falls equally on leaves and solar panels, but which does the best job of turning it into useful renewable energy? Sunlight falls equally on leaves and solar panels, but which does the best job of turning it into useful renewable energy? kincuri/Flickr

For efficient energy, do you want solar panels or biofuels?

About 80% of the world’s total energy consumption is derived from fossil fuels, with only 12.5% from renewable resources. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources derived from sunlight - such…
Malaysia’s biofuel policies — which will be delivered by large multinational corporations — are contributing to a global food crisis. Malaysia’s biofuel policies — which will be delivered by large multinational corporations — are contributing to a global food crisis. Rainforest Action Network/Flikr

Malaysia’s sustainability agenda reignites debate over food versus fuel

According to their 2005 Energy Policy Act, the US was supposed to have reached a 7.5% target for renewable fuel by 2012. While this may be good for the environment, there is growing concern that national…
The rains came too late for these Texas wheat crops, which are stunted and thin. But there’s more to rising food prices than bad weather. The rains came too late for these Texas wheat crops, which are stunted and thin. But there’s more to rising food prices than bad weather. Flickr/agrilifetoday

Crops hit by drought and biofuel policy: another food price crisis?

Not so long ago, things were looking good. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had announced on the 5th of July that the FAO food price index had been falling for the third consecutive month…
Driving away from fossil fuels: fields of rapeseed which is used in biofuels, many of which are under development in Australia and abroad. Driving away from fossil fuels: fields of rapeseed which is used in biofuels, many of which are under development in Australia and abroad. Flickr/roger g1

Growing the grunt: developing green biofuels for Australia

In 300 BC, the Syrian city of Antioch had public street lighting fuelled by olive oil. At the 1900 Paris World Fair, German inventor Rudolph Diesel demonstrated his engine powered by peanut oil. Biofuels…
There are dark days ahead for Australian forests if renewable energy plan gets the nod. There are dark days ahead for Australian forests if renewable energy plan gets the nod. jwbenwell/Flickr

Oakeshott’s call for wood-powered electricity means more logging

We are poised at a pivotal moment for native forests, the wood products industry and climate change. Australia is moving away from a damaging native forestry industry - and a damaging conflict over its…
There’s a lot of carbon in there. There’s a lot of carbon in there. John Tann

Is using native forests for energy really carbon-neutral?

Australia’s forest conflict gets easier to solve as every day passes. In reality, the conflict will solve itself if the government can just resist reviving the environmentally and economically inferior…
India’s power needs are growing at a staggering rate and coal won’t do the job. India’s power needs are growing at a staggering rate and coal won’t do the job. NASA

How do you power a billion lives?

As the Australian Labor Party changes its stance on trading uranium with India, a pertinent question arises: why is India so keen to buy this controversial fuel? And what do India’s energy resources look…
Microbial fuel cells: a bit of mud or sewage, a few bacteria and, bingo: electricity. Microbial fuel cells: a bit of mud or sewage, a few bacteria and, bingo: electricity. engineering for change

Mud power: how bacteria can turn waste into electricity

When you read the word “bacteria” you probably think about illness, advertisements for “probiotic” food supplements, and maybe about brushing your teeth. Chances are, you probably don’t think about electricity…
Developing sustainable energy sources needs some of the country’s best and brightest. Developing sustainable energy sources needs some of the country’s best and brightest. x-ray delta one

If I had a blank cheque I’d … develop hydrogen-based sustainable energy

Project: Develop hydrogen-based sustainable energyCost: $20 millionTimeframe: Seven years Finding real green energy is a vital area of research. Is there an energy that meets the needs of its users, and…
Future fuels will be made from a range of raw materials, including algae. Future fuels will be made from a range of raw materials, including algae. SandiaLabs

Explainer: the evolution of biofuels

It’s one of the key challenges of our generation: transforming our global energy use from emissions-intensive, non-renewable fossil fuels to low-carbon, sustainable energy technologies. The challenge for…
American public transport employs biofuels instead of petrol . American public transport employs biofuels instead of petrol . AAP

9/11: using biofuels to reduce American dependence on foreign oil

“We are fortunate to be alive at this moment in history. Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats…

Research and News (3)

Research Briefs (21)

Plant-eating algae a hope for biofuel

Algae can get energy from other plants, researchers from Bielefeld University have found. Conventional wisdom held that plants…

Bubbles build better biofuels

Thanks to microbubble technology, harvesting algae for use as a biofuel could become easier and more affordable. The technique…

Fill ‘er up, with microalgae

Microalgae are an interesting alternative to other biofuel crops such as corn or soy. Microalgae are individual cells or…

Does turning cow poo to power pay?

Studies have estimated that converting manure from the 95 million animal units in the United States would produce renewable…

Artificial leaves turn water into fuel

Channeling inspiration from leaves and the process of photosynthesis, two research teams have developed improved techniques…

Forget horsepower, try alligators

Alligator fat could be a key component in future biofuel production due to its high lipid content. The alligator meat processing…

A new catalyst for ethanol

A new catalyst material that could replace chemicals currently derived from petroleum has been developed. The catalyst will…