Why Don’t We Have Functional Biofuel Yet?

Why Don’t We Have Functional Biofuel Yet?

Over the last several decades, we’ve poured
billions of dollars into biofuel research…so why can’t you fill up with it at the gas
station yet? Where are the biofuels?! After all, the gas you put in your car is
essentially an ancient biofuel: it used to be organic matter—mostly algae, actually—that
over millions of years was compressed within the earth into fuel, hence the term fossil
fuel. It consists of hydrocarbons, which we can
burn, breaking those bonds to release energy that powers stuff, like our cars. So surely in this age of modern science, we
can engineer new fuels out of those same raw materials, right? Turns out—not so simple. See, the idea behind biofuels is that we use
organic matter, like straw or corn or sugarcane, and turn it into liquid fuel. Ideally, the gases that are released when
we burn that fuel are equivalent to the emissions that are absorbed by growing them in the first
place, so the whole cycle is what we call ‘carbon neutral’—it produces zero net
emissions. Plus, we won’t run out of them, because
we can just grow more. That’s why biofuels are so attractive. We could have energy security and reduce emissions,
even create whole new agricultural sectors. But the amount of energy that’s packed into
really potent fossil fuel is pretty hard to rival. Take ethanol, a common first generation biofuel. It’s an alcohol, which requires plant biomass
to be fermented, distilled, and dehydrated to take it from the crop we grow in the field
to what you put in your tank. In the U.S., for example, we’ve mostly used
corn, and just growing it in the first place requires intensive resources—not just energy,
but land, water, fertilizer that causes pollution—and growing corn for ethanol can directly compete
with food production. After growing it, we have to process the raw
corn into fuel—this is time, money, and energy expensive. Plus, actually putting ethanol in cars is
a bit of a stumbling block. In general, if we want to use different fuel,
we’ll have to change the way we make most cars, especially in the U.S. And ultimately, creating ethanol is so resource
intensive, these fuel products can actually end up producing even more emissions than
fossil fuels throughout their lifetime! Scientists have recognized these failures
in recent years and have developed more efficient, second generation ethanols out of cellulosic
material, the denser, inedible parts of crops. This doesn’t compete with existing food
pipelines and actually results in more energy payoff. But the distillation process remains expensive
and energy intensive–it may be more energy dense material, but it’s also harder to
break down into fuel in the first place. Brazil has had more success with sugarcane
ethanol production, but all ethanols still have yet to break even in terms of practical,
widely-used energy parity. Ok, but ethanol’s not the only biofuel out
there. We also make biofuel out of algae, which–again–involves
cultivating and harvesting these microorganisms, then putting them through an energy-intensive
process that squeezes those lipids out of the algae cells. We then refine those oils, and turn them into
fuel. Same kind of problems here as with ethanol—we
haven’t been able to turn this process into something that, on the whole, creates less
emissions AND is less expensive than regular fuel because of all the resources that go
into processing it. Plus–these organisms are plagued by predators
in large cultivation ponds, and keeping them alive in industrial quantities is tough…but
lots of cool research is going into fixing these particular problems. What if we took an already processed food
by-product, like used french fry grease, and used it as fuel? We just need to refine it a bit, through a
process called transesterification, into something call hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO). This can and has been used to fuel large cargo
ships, and produces less carbon dioxide and polluting particulates than the traditional
fuel for these large, energy-intensive vehicles. These materials are more energy rich than
first gen biofuels like pure ethanol–but, you guessed it, the conversion process is
still really expensive. And biofuel like this works primarily with
diesel engines, which aren’t as common in some places around the world, like in the
U.S.. In some places like Sweden however, HVO already
makes up a vast majority of their biofuel, and biofuel in general makes up about a fifth
of their transport fuel sources. So it is a promising contender. We’ve been trying to make biofuel work commercially
since the early 1900s. And we’re still not there yet, but we are
innovating. Scientists are now genetically editing plants
to make them produce more of the fatty oil we use to make the fuel, hopefully allowing
us to get a higher energy yield from the resources we put into cultivating that organism. And some experts think that even as the market
shifts toward electrifying cars and trucks on the road, biofuel is still a valid option
for powering big, pollution-heavy vehicles like container ships and airplanes. Maybe the real problem is how we’ve been
talking about all this–everyone wants to hype biofuel as the thing that’s going to
save the world, but we’re still on the journey. Hopefully we won’t give up quite yet because
there’s really exciting technology in the pipeline that could get us there, and that
needs support. But the clock is ticking and it feels like
time, and patience, is running out. What do you think about biofuels? Still promising, or will something else beat
green fuel to the road? Let us know in the comments below, and if
you want to always check in on big questions like this one, don’t forget to subscribe
to Seeker. Thanks for watching!

Posts created 41002

100 thoughts on “Why Don’t We Have Functional Biofuel Yet?

  1. Seems to me this is a well intentioned but not well researched video that ends up being a touch misleading: 1) Suggest doing some more research on the biofuels subject including some basic thermodynamics/energy, chemistry, feedstocks, and a bit more detailed life cycle reading and GHG overall implications – many of the comments are somewhat superficial and lack basis as of 2019 – there's plenty of good biofuel information out there, 2) Recommend reading about actual biofuel programs that are working and why (not all biofuels are carbon favorable/societally desirable, I agree on that and its well established), 3) Read a touch about the biofuel policies and technology and incentives in the US (the US RFS and California's LCFS), 4) Unfortunately, one cannot ignore the never ending pushback by interest groups that would loose from wider adoption of biofuels, and lastly 5) suggest redoing video once you've done 1,2, 3, and 4. It will be much more credible to people that are somewhat exposed to this important subject and will improve your readers factual knowledge. Leave me a comment if you need some pointers on the technology, science, policies, etc.

  2. The solution was stated as the reason for failure in all three of your examples. [Not cost competitive with existing fossil fuels] This is not a problem with biofuels, it is a problem with the existing fossil fuels being subsidized. Removing these subsidizes will low taxes and make biofuels cost competitive.

  3. Before gasoline all cars ran on ethanol which people produced from potatos. This was essentialy free fuel that anyone can grow. Funnily enough at around the same time cars became increasingly popular and more accessible early industrialists such as the Rockefellers began exploiting oil and gas, prohibition happened and all cars began had to run on gasoline. COINCIDENCE IM SURE.

  4. I think biofuels are important because we may make cars electric but I don't think we can make large cargo ships or commercial plane run on electric.

  5. Editing tip – don't use the fade to black and transparent lettering like at 0:23 – it's weird – 0:59 is best practice (i think) – 3:40 is okay – otherwise – good job!

  6. The local sewage farm should be a source of methane and diesel. The input raw materials are free and are transported by the sewer network to the sewage farm. No need for large numbers of trucks transporting high volume low value materials. The transportation system is already in place. The liquid from the sewage is full of nitrates and phosphates ideal to grow algae on. Use the methane to process the algae and extract the lipids.

  7. At 0:29 you say we can release energy by breaking those bonds……wrong. Breaking bonds is always endothermic, energy is only released by making bonds. Oops

  8. The U.S. already has e85 fuel made from corn and all you need to convert it . Is a software update. Watch the documentary Pump https://youtu.be/Yp5rx1e0LLE

  9. I think we would have a solution for this long time ago, but "the big guys" stop it from happening. Money and power is destroying our world not the fuel.

  10. Hydrogen can be used in petrol engines, with only water as a biproduct. Conversion of existing cars will pollute far less than the production of new electric ones, and if nuclear power in the form of thorium reactors is used, it will be carbon neutral.

  11. Best biofuel is butanol — industry is slowly waking up to this. Higher energy density than ethanol, better emission profile, burns in diesel and gas engines, miscible in any fuel

  12. Blah, blah, blah. We don't need to grow shit. We have Oceans full of Hydrogen, which is what big oil, and power companies are terrified of. Figure out how to extract it for cheap. Or just create a market for it. Capitalism, and competition will bring the prices down. Say goodbye to Saudi Arabia

  13. This is great, good work and thank you for the perspective. How about a 2 hour video to show all the options

  14. I agree however, biofuel is the best out there and the only thing stopping it is the government! Biofuel can be produced in huge amounts but, there is always a but don't forget that. If biofuel companies started production, what will happen to fossil fuel companies? take for example Gazprom, Aramco!!

    Science behind biofuel is really good and wouldn't destroy much of the environment but fossil fuel is!

  15. Biofuels make sense when they use biotrash, or byproducts of food industry.. It makes no sense to grow corn and feed it to engines and then pay a fortune to eat corn and make fuel and food industries compete for resourses making food prices skyrocket

  16. Transesterification is a process that requires methanol and makes Fatty Acid Methylated Esters. That's conventional biodiesel with all its limitations like not being able to run exclusively on it. Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil, on the other hand, requires hydrogen gas with the Hydrotreatment process — hence the name HVO. The produced HVO has chemical properties near indistinguishable from its fossil fuel counterpart with applications as biodiesel and even biojet.

  17. The answer is simple — no biofuel can or ever* will compete with fossil fuels on a cost basis as long as the users of fossil fuels get to use our atmosphere as a free sewer for their CO2 emissions.

    (* OK, CENTURIES from now, fossil fuels will (would) become too rare and costly to produce, and recycling atmospheric CO2 through plants or other means will (would) become the only viable source for organic fuels, polymers, and other useful products based on carbon. But at current CO2 emission rates (not to mention what rates will be if the population keeps growing), our Planet will become unlivable LONG before fossil fuels run out.)

  18. Thorium reactor………..limitless fuel, no waste, passive safety,no weapons. China just commissioned 2 prototype reactors ( $4 billion investment) the energy crisis was solved when ORNL ran a 10 year research reactor until the US gov killed it……….because they only wanted something that made weapons.

  19. Thermo-depolymerization provides its own energy and runs off trash.
    Not to sound like a nut but it's been effectively buried

  20. Biofuels are not feasible on a large scale. there will always be trade offs between availability and efficiency.
    Plants are easy to obtain, and therefore not very efficient to convert into energy.
    Sunlight is more efficient, but solarpanels are harder to manufacture, and consume more energy by doing so.

    Cheap, concentrated energy is given, sustainable but diffuse energy has to be converted, and conversion costs energy.
    In much the same ways abundant materials are less efficient for converting energy than rare materials.
    These are just the constraints of physics we'll need to adapt to.

    Biking up a hill will always cost more energy than biking down a hill.
    Fossil fuels thrusted us down to the bottom of the hill, and the way up wille be slow and maybe even painful.

  21. So what about Nano- feuL. When nano-carbon-tubules; from atmosphere integrate in soil, and plant, or biodegraded in the food we process ourselves

  22. You talk about the "waste" of energy in growing and processing corn into bio-fuel, What about the "waste" of energy used to find and drill for oil, Tar-sands or worse the dangers of fracking?

  23. My car runs horrible with ethanol. idk y but but non ethanol is better for my specific car 2004 3.8l monte carlo.

  24. The deserts of the USA could make the nations bio fuel if you have a farm the condenses water from air using solar energy and makes electricity to process and heat the bio oil into bio diesel in a small all in one bio fuel farm/refinery.

  25. Algea is Carbon sequestering, cos the energy used to process it is countered by the energy Algea saves us by feeding it our waste water. So it cleans our water in the process of growing, and waste water treatment is energy intensive so Algea saves us energy their!. Also the heat needed to process Algea fuel can be got by using heat pumps and other renewable heat sources, in fact the waste heat from factories could help with this. Especially as some Photo Bio Reactors( PBR) are sited next to factories to use the waste industrial gasses to feed the Algea which helps stop pollution as well!.

  26. We have been trying for 100 years, but "time and patience is running out." OMG, no. Can no one at seeker use common sense?

  27. no free lunch. biofuel is not a solution it will never beat fossil fuels that were essentially made for free by nature millions of years ago. biofuel is a scam to help people fool themselves into believing or pretending that this is somehow 'saving' nature. In reality biofuel research only creates a proposition for public/private funding opportunities to small sub-section of research scientists. solar, wind and hydro is as 'free' as you can possibly get short of burning fossil-derived fuels. but as always there is no free energy in the universe. you can't create more energy than you put in, at least use that what's still provided for free by that giant fusion reactor in the sky.

  28. Uhm…. You talk about time, money and energy being spent on manufacturing of biofuels but does fossil fuels not require time, money or energy to mine and process? It actually costs more time, money and energy to produce 1 litre of fossil fuel than it does 1 litre of biofuel.

    Also, The US is THE BIGGEST PRODUCER OF BIODIESEL IN THE WORLD! 4 billion gallons in the year 2016. 44 million vehicles running off biodiesel in the US. The largest biodiesel facility is in the US, Washington. I don't think you know enough about biofuel to be commenting on the subject. Please get off the internet.

  29. Appreciate the reduction in CO2, but are we aware of the NOx produced from Biodiesel? The combustion creates vasts amounts of this harmful emission, which then creates Ozone. NOx is about 300 times worse for the environment than CO2 … should we be looking at both aspects?!

  30. All the Biofuel companies in the world 🌍 need's to talk to all the vehicle factories in the world 🌍. So that they can stop ✋ building 🏢 vehicles that runs on Disal and Petrol ⛽. And they need to start building 🏢 vehicles that runs on Biofuel for the rest of there live's. And they do need to start building vehicles that runs on electricity and Solar power too. And inventors will build Generators that runs on Biofuel too. It's the future 🔮 now. And those desil and petrol ⛽ vehicles will be recycled ♻ while most of them will become collectibles. And desil and petrol ⛽ will not be sold that much but it will grow interest in value. So those businesses will be slow.

  31. If you switch to lab grown meat the money used to feed livestock can be used for fuel instead

  32. We can take carbon out of the atmosphere faster than we put it in by farming single cell algae on coast lines every city on the coast could power its electrical needs this way and as 90% of the world population lives along coasts it is a viable solution.

    Nuts and Bolts time: You dig channels on land and or build dikes by dredging with locks so tidal forces push the water in screens to keep marine debris and fish out. Waves drive pumps forcing air to bubble through the water saturating it with carbon and nutrients from dust in the air, city sewage can be added for more nutrients. Mix in small amounts of iron oxide to that and a explosion of algae growth will occur after three days you pump the water to a electrofloculation station this will cheaply separate the algae from the water.

    You pump the algae though solar heating coils to a vacuum chamber (you can cheaply create vacuum with gravity and 15 meter towers explanation at the end) the water inside the algae will burst the cells as it boils.

    This frees clean oil to be used as we need for pharmaceutical production, lubrication of machinery, fueling necessary vehicles that have no other IE better option.

    The husk of the algae cell can then be used as feed stock for furnaces recapturing the Co2 while making electricity or you can bio-digest it and feed the methane produced to a fuel cell system while recycling the Co2.

    The remains of that you can use for soil amendments to reclaim deserts, grow more trees, land based crops, feed back into the algae system or just sequester it at the bottom of the ocean.

    https://youtu.be/933XNdClFrc?t=507 create a vacuum using gravity.

    Increasing the size of the top end of the pipe increases the area of the vacuum like a water tower https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/The_Blue_Water_Tower,_Kaohsiung.JPG the vacuum created can be used to evacuate other chambers to compartmentalize production away from the vacuum pump to use specific vacuum chambers that crack the algae and dewater it as the steam escapes to a empty vacuum chamber this is another benefit as it produces pure distilled water helping humanity deal with a water shortage. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.php?page=hydropower_ocean_thermal_energy_conversion

  33. why ferment, just burn them directly in replace of coal, plus if you genetically modify plants like bamboo and hemp to grow faster and with the use of vertical farming to save space

  34. When you consider process requirements from crude to fuel vs biomass to fuel, it is obvious that it will likely not be cheaper than petroleum sources without policy intervention in the US. It is important to note that electricity from other renewables is a better replacement for gasoline engines. Diesel and Jet are the two important applications for biofuels. I say this as a biomass->fuels researcher

  35. Biofuel actually is used by gas stations in the US. According to BP's website:
    By federal and state regulation, nearly all gasoline sold by retailers in the US has up to 10% ethanol blended into it to comply with the US Renewable Fuel Standards as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act.

  36. Biofuels increased land use change and deforestation in Indonesia. It's not worth it for environmental. Also we will change to electric vehicle.

  37. Cars can actually run on pure alcohol, if equipped to do so, but too many rich people would lose large amount of money, so you will never see it

  38. Thanks for doing these great videos on the intersection of science and policy! However, I have my chemistry teacher pet peeve misconception: 0:26 Breaking bonds does not give off energy. Breaking bonds takes energy, (like a spark) and energy is given off by making new bonds. So the bonds in the combustion products (mostly water and CO2 have lower energy bonds than the bonds in the fuel. Again apologies for seeming nit-picky, but this is a misconception that can take a lot of energy to break. (bad pun intended)

  39. the problem is people using land,it maybe different if we use Floating platform in the middle of the ocean that fully autonomous to farm algae. powered with Wave energy and solar panel.

  40. We have functional biofuel now, right now. It's called ETHANOL. Virtually every internal combustion engine vehicle on the road today can safely and economically use ethanol fuels that are significantly higher than E10 and E15. What we have a shortage of are "functional" people who know this, and who know the history of fuels.

    In addition, what the young woman in the video calls "fossil fuels" were not created from organic matter, they were created from inorganic materials (minerals). They are "abiotic fuels."

    Ethanol production is energy positive; gasoline is energy negative. Try learning some real facts. Try doing some real research. Where ever you culled your information from is wrong.

    If you would like some true information, read my free online 641-page book, THE ETHANOL PAPERS. You can find it at:

  41. Might be more insightful to ask Big Oil companies and their lobby people.. Some of the Big Oil companies have been doing biofuel research for quite a while.

  42. we are doomd and noone can save humanity because we cant give up the fossil fuel and that will lead us to end of humanity

  43. I liked this video, but I need to correct where she said "converting biodiesel is really expensive". It is not. I'd go so far as to say most folks who drive diesel vehicles would have no trouble making their own from home.

  44. We already use it … B100%
    INDONESIA already mass produce it CPO biofuel
    * ethanol we had snake fruit for highest ethanol source
    * liquid hydrogen not bad too

  45. If the oil industry spent 10% of what they spend on finding new oil on the issue we'd have it by now. They really have no plan for when the oil and coal run out. Most of them think just digging/drilling deeper will work, there's a level where there is no oil or coal and below that just hot rock. Too many politicians and other gov morons have investments in the oil/coal industry so they really have no interest in cleaner energy, it'd disrupt their $$$$ income.

  46. Wait wait. So biofuel doesnt come from oil? So i can still have my big roar from a car but it doesnt run on oil?

  47. First off your entirely wrong think about it big oil companies don't want freaking biofuels to succeed because it would put them out of business

  48. In college I did a report on algae fuel 15000 square miles is all it would take for the United States to be independent and not need oil anymore

  49. Now I know 15,000 square mile sounds like a lot but in actuality there's at least 10 or more states that could literally hawk up that mountain square footage easily

  50. You may have missed this one – it should help you revisit this episode :

  51. Since the hemp plant can produce up to three times more oil than the ones mentioned which might be why it was illegal for so long as is the best alternative. Stalks and fibers used to clothing and rope. What was not mentioned is to cost of drilling vs growing and environmental impacts of petroleum oil spills. I believe people are now using CBT oils as natural pain remedies.

  52. Why are we not using methane and other gases as biofuels? It's already been shown that you can quite easily run a gasoline engine on methane, and it's also by far the least energy intensive to produce. If not already carbon neutral, it wouldn't be difficult to make it so, as the plant or fecal matter that is anaerobically decomposed is producing usable hydrocarbons that will be released into the atmosphere that would have been released (though in different forms) into the soil, and eventually, the atmosphere as well. I know that nothing I've said is revolutionary, but it is concerning how little development is taking place for this very promising technology.




  54. I know you studied microbiology the batteries technology can not balance the real necesity of energy soy biofuel energy produced by biology it is the best way

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