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Innovations: Making Biofuels More Efficient

December 3, 2010 - 11:40am


On Tuesday, Secretary Chu spoke of the need for new innovations to lead the U.S. into a new green economy. This project out of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency is an example of just that. 

Currently all biofuels rely on photosynthetic plants to convert energy from sunlight into usable fuel.  But the overall efficiency of using natural photosynthesis to make biofuels is very low, and large acreage of land is necessary to grow the plants. 

This issue is why the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) is sponsoring scientists at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in collaboration with the University of Georgia  (UGA) to work on an Electrofuels program using "Extremophiles."

Extremophiles are microorganisms that thrive in, and sometimes even require, extreme physically or geochemically conditions that are detrimental to the majority of life on earth. Some require nearly boiling temperatures, others prefer strong acidity, still others thrive under huge amounts of hydrostatic pressure. 

The North Carolina State University and University of Georgia scientists are working to use “thermophilic microorganisms” -- which grow optimally at elevated temperatures around 160°F -- to create an organism capable of highly efficient liquid fuel production -- in other words, a way to bypass the photosynthesis process so that biofuels can be a much more efficient source of energy.

If the project is totally successful, this new fuel will be cost-competitive with oil fuels and future generations will be able to fuel vehicles with these new sustainable and uniquely American-made fuels. 

You can check out the Electrofuels program site for more info.