Biofuel Research Suffers From Gaps | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: January 20, 2012

Biofuel Research Suffers From Gaps

Biofuels: Little research has occurred on the effects of biofuel use on biodiversity and human health, scientists find
Department: Science & Technology, Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: biofuels, ethanol, alternative energy, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity
Growing Fuels
The U.S. currently uses corn to produce 14 billion gal of ethanol
Credit: Shutterstock
Growing Fuels
The U.S. currently uses corn to produce 14 billion gal of ethanol
Credit: Shutterstock

After a review of a decade’s worth of biofuels research, scientists with the Environmental Protection Agency have concluded that significant knowledge gaps will likely prevent experts from adequately assessing biofuels’ full environmental impacts (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es2023253). While researchers have paid substantial attention to greenhouse gas emissions, the new study says, they have focused little on how the production and use of biofuels affects biodiversity and human health.

“The last 10 years or so of research may have left us short of understanding what biofuels really may do to global economies, the environment, and society,” says Caroline Ridley, an ecologist with the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, in Arlington, Va., who led the study.

Interest in biofuels has grown in part because the U.S. government has mandated aggressive expansion of their production. One job of Ridley’s group is to synthesize available information on such environmental policies.

She and her colleagues searched literature databases to identify more than 1,600 biofuels research citations from 2000 to 2009. They assigned each study to one of four themes, such as the environment or economics, and then to topics within those themes, such as greenhouse gas emissions or costs of production. They also looked at each study’s geographical focus and whether the papers connected different topics.

The team found that the most common topics, with a few hundred papers each, were fuel production, feedstock production, and greenhouse gas emissions. Near the bottom of the list, 80 studies examined how biofuel production affects biodiversity, for example how local species fare after farmers clear large stretches of land to grow corn, switchgrass, palm oil, or other biofuel feedstocks. And only 15 studied the human health impacts of increasing levels of air pollutants produced by burning biofuel ethanol.

The team also found that researchers have focused largely on the environmental consequences in the Northern Hemisphere even though regions in the Southern Hemisphere, such as Indonesia, will probably grow most of the feedstock crops.

Jason Hill, an environmental scientist at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, who was a coauthor of a recent National Academy of Sciences biofuels report, finds the EPA team’s review refreshing because it identifies what he calls an unbalanced focus on greenhouse gas emissions in biofuels research. The impacts on biodiversity and human health “are at least as large as the potential damage from climate change,” he says.

Ridley and her team warn that these holes in biofuels research mean that expanded biofuels use could lead to unanticipated problems. As a result, she suggests her team’s results could offer a useful guide to decision makers in allotting research funds. Hill agrees and sees the review as a call for scientists to fill in the gaps.

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Lorenz K. Hinterauer  (January 24, 2012 4:01 AM)
This article shows that it would be wise to investigate the whole local biotop (comunity of plants and animals), and to decide which products could be used without harm for nature and the inputs to keep the air and drinking-water clean, and the soil fertile.
» Reply
Lorenz K. Hinterauer  (January 24, 2012 4:07 AM)
This article shows that it would be wise to investigate the whole local biotop (comunity of plants and animals), and to decide which products could be used without harm for nature and the inputs to keep the air and drinking-water clean, and the soil fertile.
» Reply
Clive Richardson  (January 27, 2012 5:42 PM)
This applies to the USA, EU and others for Bio Diesel. The FAME standard promotes a waste of resources.

TOMS-Biodiesel: a Patented novel 100% green petrodiesel substitute methodology:

In addition to the below TOMS details we are aware of the continuing demand for bio diesel FAME producers to improve their product, possibly by distillation. Our view is that is is an expensive proposition. In fact it is possible, using TOMS methodology to produce TOMS or FAEE, FAME and even low calorie food oils 50:50 ratio; again with zero waste, or additional high distillation costs. Further we are aware from conversations with process engineering specialists (DeSmet Ballestra) that the design, build, operation of a TOMS facility would be up to 30% less expensive than costs associated with traditional FAME manufacturing plants.

“Our objective is to seek out opportunity to commercialise the Patented TOMS methodology”.

TOMS-Biodiesel: a Patented novel 100% green petrodiesel substitute methodology:

It is well known from EU directive 30/2009 that blending of conventional biodiesel (FAME) into petrodiesel has been limited to 7% (article [4], Appendix II.) “owing to technical considerations” (article [33]). It is also evident for any professional of the art that “neat” (unblended) FAME’s on account of their high cloud points (this being - 4°C in the case of rapeseed based FAME) are inapplicable in diesel engines in moderate-climate countries. So it seems that the life cycle of first generation petrodiesel both as an additive/substitute has reached the decline stage.

As to the second generation diesel substitutes and relating processes (in general, the BTL processes, e.g. Neste’s NExBTL method, but also biomass-based Fischer-Tropsch syntheses, or pyrolytic procedures, in short: “thermochemical pathways”), have thus far failed to produce viable alternatives, for a variety of reasons (the pertaining products – e.g. “non-ester biodiesel” -- themselves otherwise not being subject to limitations, unlike FAME’s, see again in point [33] of EU directive 30/2009). E.g. consider extreme reaction conditions (energy-intensive, high pressure/temperature parameters, multi-step reactions, isomerisation, use of huge volumes of fossil derived hydrogen, cost and recovery cost of precious-metal catalysts, loss of approximately. 20% feedstock in the hydrotreatment/pyrolytic process in the form of carbon dioxide and water, high investment, equipment and operating costs, etc.). Not to mention the most important fact, that such bio paraffin products – the respective feedstock biomasses having been deprived of their inherent internal oxygen content in the hydrotreatment/pyrolytic processes – will have the same unfavourable emission profiles, as their fossil-derived counterparts (requiring oxygenate additives for improving exhaust gases), such issues having been the very reason previously for propagating introduction of e.g. biodiesel (FAME), this being an oxygenated fuel, owing to the presence of oxygen atoms in the ester linkages.

Now, in view of all this, we are proposing introduction of our novel, 100% green diesel substitute, “TOMS-Biodiesel”, an award winning combustible of the 2007 Geneva International Salon of Inventions (“Gold Medal”, “Invention of the Year” in Hungary), since then patented in Hungary (HU 226 873) and in the Republic of South Africa (2009/06088), patents pending in 50 or so countries (PCT/HU 2008/000013) currently at the final stage of assessment by the EPO.

Our feedstock is the same as for FAME (any triglyceride) but we react these high viscosity oils (in themselves unfit for use in diesel engines for this very reason) with 100% bio derived ethyl acetate (as against fossil derived methanol in the FAME processes), whereby we partially exchange the original long (C16 –C24) acyl chains of oils bound to the glycerol backbone, for acetyl (C2) chains, affording modified triglycerides („light oils”) with amply reduced viscosities, the displaced long chains forming at the same time ethyl esters of fatty acids (FAEE’s), these latter themselves long known and approved as diesel biofuels. So there is no glycerol formation, as the glycerol backbone has been retained, moreover on account of incorporation of the ethyl acetate moieties into the fuel, from one unit of feedstock oil we get 15 – 20 % more fuel.

That is:


CH - OCO-L O N G + CH3-COO-Et --> CH - OCO-L O N G + LONG-COO-Et



Mw: 878 Mw: 88 Mw: 658 + Mw: 308

(rapeseed oil) (ethyl acetate) "modified triglyceride" fatty acid ethyl ester mTG FAEE TOMS - B i o d i e s e l

Every atom of feedstock oils is turned into fuel, with no glycerol by product, no wastes, our fuel having superior fuel properties over conventional biodiesel (FAME), e.g. Our cloud point (with rapeseed feedstock) being – 13°C, our iodine number 90 - 95 (always necessarily lower than in the corresponding FAME, on account of “dilution of double bonds” with the incorporation of ethyl acetate moieties), our oxidation stability being 11.6 hours (as against < 6 hours with FAME), our specific gravity being 0.915 (FAME: 0.88), making our volumetric energy density practically the same as that of petrodiesel (specific gravity here being 0.83), etc. And on account of retention of the glycerol backbone, our internal oxygen content is 30% higher than that of FAME (TOMS formally being "an oxygenated FAEE"), resulting in superb emission profiles as against gas station petrodiesel, used as control fuel in our engine and emission tests, performed in an accredited laboratory. So fuel properties of TOMS-Biodiesel render this renewable fuel applicable in diesel engines in unblended form as well (as TOMS 100).

May we point out here some most important aspects concerning our emissions: we have 75 – 80% less smoke, than petrodiesel, less NOx (nitrogen oxide) and HC (unburnt hydrocarbon) emissions, all most important aspects in city transport. Please see our diagrams, but kindly note that they were plotted on mass basis (as function of grams of fuel consumed), but owing to TOMS’s much higher specific gravity, on volumetric basis, i.e. “mileage with one tanking”, we are very near to petrodiesel, that is our volumetric energy density is just a few percentage points lower that petroleum diesel.

Our partial interesterification reaction being an equilibrium one, so we can regulate the conversion rate, i.e. exchange of original long C16 - C24 fatty acid side-chains for short ones, e.g. for C2 acetyl, via excess of ethyl acetate used, thereby arriving at varying viscosity products, that is producing heavy/light diesel renewable substitutes on demand. Thus ours is a "designer fuel" in the fullest sense of the term.

We also emphasise here that our production costs are 5 – 10% below that of conventional biodiesel, we can produce TOMS -Biodiesel in operating FAME plants (after some modifications) or in closed-down BD plants (with some revamping). Owing to absence of the gylcerol side-streams, investment costs are appr. 30% lower than those of conventional BD plants, etc.

Finally we wish to stress that EU directive 28/2009 expressly and explicitly supports R&D work on “novel fuels and technologies” (see articles [13, 14, 22, 29, 42, 66, 89, k]), that is, our novel, 100% sustainable petrodiesel substitute falling into this recommended category.

Clive Richardson
siddeshwara  (June 23, 2012 7:21 AM)
Hi sir ... This is Siddeshwara from India, m M.Sc(Chemistry) and i have so much interested and having curiosity about biofuel. i.e. how to extract fuel from plants..... Because in India so much polluted it only because of using petrofuel and ofcourse the same thing is happen in other countries also. sir please send techniques, how to extract fuel from plant.... this is my mail id. please send me sir.......
Lila Guterman  (June 25, 2012 11:29 AM)
Hi Siddeshwara, thank you for the comment. I am a C&EN editor and I worked on Mark Schrope's article above. If you would like further information, please review the Environ. Sci. Technol. paper it references, or contact Caroline Ridley of EPA, who led the study.

Or if you are responding to Clive Richardson's comment, please contact him directly.

Thanks again for your interest!
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