Cutting-edge research on non-food biofuels

Jun 19, 2014
Cutting-edge research on non-food biofuels

Biofuels are playing an increasingly important role in our energy mix - between 2008 and 2010, the volume of biofuels consumed in the EU increased by 39 %. However, there is concern over the impact on sustainability and on biodiversity of some biofuels, particularly in relation to changes in indirect land use. Consequently, policymakers are increasingly interested in biofuels from woody plants that can grow on land unsuitable for agriculture.

With this in mind, the FP7-funded MULTIBIOPRO is developing second-generation non-food oils and biomaterials from poplar and the tobacco tree (Nicotiana glauca). Both of these plants thrive on marginal land and may have the potential for large-scale production without directly competing with food crops.

Launched in 2012, the MULTIBIOPRO project is also exploring compounds that can be derived from waste biomass for use in pharmaceuticals, construction and other industries.

Dr Staffan Persson of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology, coordinator of the project, notes, 'MULTIBIOPRO wants to let nature do the job for us. We want to have one species producing many different products.'

Dr Persson adds, 'Within MULTIBIOPRO , we have academic partners and industrial partners and we work very closely to try to utilise the compounds that are available in our species to then try to sell those products to bigger companies that can make them applicable for the rest of society.'

One element of the project involves the Neutral Group, a project partner, growing tobacco trees at a research farm in Dubai. Oil from the tree may act as a potential replacement for used cooking oil, the Neutral Group's current source of feedstock at its nearby bio-refinery.

During this testing period, the project team hopes to discover the quality of the biodiesel that can be produced from the tobacco plant, and in particular whether it will pass international standards.

Corporate partners within the project are already looking toward new products to meet market needs. James Hygate, of Green Fuels notes, 'When you actually look at the value of [the products], you're looking at EUR 300-400 billion worth of production. This is big business.'

Another important aspect of the project is that it is designed to seed research institutes with young talent ready to carry Europe's push for alternatives to fossil fuels into the future. The project provides training for these young scientists who can interact with laboratories and new techniques across Europe.

The first annual MULTIBIOPRO project meeting took place late last year at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden. The consortium has also recently published a short film which aims to provide the public with a better understanding of the dynamics of this cutting-edge research project.

Explore further: EU agrees plan to cap use of food-based biofuels

More information:

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Biofuel from desert plants grown with seawater

Jan 22, 2014

Aerospace giant Boeing and its research partners in the Middle East said Wednesday they would start field trials after recording progress in making biofuel from desert plants fed with seawater.

Sun, water, CO2 and algae: A recipe for biofuel?

Sep 25, 2013

Plant-based biofuels were initially hailed as the answer to all problems posed by traditional fossil fuels. Supply is unlimited and they are also neutral to emissions harmful to the environment also. But ...

Improving the health of Europe's fruit and veg industry

Jun 13, 2014

Fruit and vegetables are not just good for your health; they also form the basis of a strong and sustainable European economic sector. Some 10 000 businesses - about 90 % of which are SMEs - are involved ...

Recommended for you

The origin of the language of life

Dec 19, 2014

The genetic code is the universal language of life. It describes how information is encoded in the genetic material and is the same for all organisms from simple bacteria to animals to humans. However, the ...

Quest to unravel mysteries of our gene network

Dec 18, 2014

There are roughly 27,000 genes in the human body, all but a relative few of them connected through an intricate and complex network that plays a dominant role in shaping our physiological structure and functions.

EU court clears stem cell patenting

Dec 18, 2014

A human egg used to produce stem cells but unable to develop into a viable embryo can be patented, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.