News Center From Smoky Skies to a Green Horizon: Scientists Convert Fire-Risk Wood into Biofuel

A simplified new process transforms wood waste from agriculture and forest management into ethanol

Reliance on petroleum fuels and raging wildfires: Two separate, large-scale challenges that could be addressed by one scientific breakthrough.

Teams from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Sandia National Laboratories have collaborated to develop a streamlined and efficient process for converting woody plant matter like forest overgrowth and agricultural waste – material that is currently burned either intentionally or unintentionally – into liquid biofuel. Their research was published recently in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

“According to a recent report, by 2050 there will be 38 million metric tons of dry woody biomass available each year, making it an exceptionally abundant carbon source for biofuel production,” said Carolina Barcelos, a senior process engineer at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts Process Development Unit (ABPDU).

However, efforts to convert woody biomass to biofuel are typically hindered by the intrinsic properties of wood that make it very difficult to break down chemically, added ABPDU research scientist Eric Sundstrom. ”Our two studies detail a low-cost conversion pathway for biomass sources that would otherwise be burned in the field or in slash piles, or increase the risk and severity of seasonal wildfires. We have the ability to transform these renewable carbon sources from air pollution and fire hazards into a sustainable fuel.”

… The Berkeley Lab teams are working with Aemetis, an advanced renewable fuels and biochemicals company based in the Bay Area, to commercialize the technology and launch it at larger scales once the pilot phase is complete.

– Berkeley Lab News Center, Aliyah Kovner

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