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Europe looks to develop second-generation biofuels

by Patricia Short
May 12, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 19

Two German companies—Süd-Chemie and Linde—are teaming up to develop second-generation biofuels based on crops that do not compete with food production.

The partners will focus on developing a biotechnological process to generate fuels such as ethanol from plant matter containing cellulose, such as wheat and corn straw, grasses, and wood.

Süd-Chemie will contribute its know-how in biocatalysis and bioprocess engineering to the joint venture. Linde's subsidiary, Linde-KCA-Dresden, will provide engineering expertise in the areas of biotechnology and chemistry.

The partners stress that their technology, which will be commercially available, will not compete with food and feed crops, as first-generation biofuels do. First-generation biofuels are produced solely from plant matter containing oil, starch, or sugar. Biodiesel, for example, is derived from rapeseed oil, and bioethanol is derived from starch or sugar. Second-generation biofuels, however, use only cellulose-based matter.

Potential competition for land and crops, and escalating food and feed prices, has become a major concern for European consumers and legislators.

But as Mariann Fischer Boel, European commissioner for agriculture and rural development, said in a speech in Brussels on May 6, first-generation biofuels can give the European Union economic and environmental benefits while serving as a bridge "to take us to the next generation."

"I underline the importance of that bridge," she said. "A stable market can cut down the considerable risks faced by potential investors in second-generation fuels. Also, production facilities for some advanced fuels could be built as extensions to first-generation plants."


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