Scientists set sights on biomass to reduce fossil fuel dependence

Jan 27, 2006
Scientists set sights on biomass to reduce fossil fuel dependence

Using plants rather than oil or coal to produce fuels and chemicals could play an essential role in reducing the world's dependence on fossil fuels, according to a group of scientists from the UK and the USA writing today in the journal Science.

The scientists from Imperial College London, Georgia Tech and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have evaluated the scientific and technological potential of a future based on renewable plant matter and biological material such as trees, grasses, agricultural crops, known as biomass. Their conclusions form the basis of a strategic alliance between the three institutions, the AtlantIC Alliance.

Today's paper describes the scientific challenges of creating a facility to process all the components of biomass. Such a facility would make a range of fuels, foods, chemicals, animal feeds, materials, heat and power in proportions that would give maximum value with minimum waste.

The scientists believe that efficient refining of biomass will be vital for producing renewable products with reduced carbon emissions. Biofuels and biomaterials are derived from plants which take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. Their net contribution to the addition of greenhouse gases can be very small if minimal non-renewable energy is used when processing them into useful material or energy products.

Dr Charlotte Williams , from Imperial's Department of Chemistry and one of the authors of the paper, said: "We're looking at a future for biomass where we use the entire plant and produce a range of different materials from it.

"Biomass has a completely different molecular structure compared with hydrocarbons from oil. That means we'll need to develop new techniques so that we can transform plant material into everything from specialty, high value products such as perfumes and plastics to higher volume products such as fuels."

Imperial hopes that the partnership with Georgia Tech and Oak Ridge will combine their complementary areas of expertise and examine the critical issues from alternative angles. The project has been given a major boost by the award of a UK Office of Science and Technology grant to develop the alliance, backed up by internal funding from each of the partners.

Professor Richard Templer, Head of Imperial's Department of Chemistry, said: " No one institution is going to cover all the aspects and issues in this transition from a fossil resource-based present to a bio-based future. This partnership will increase the range of our scientific capacity. It will also enable us to evaluate the scientific and technological possibilities for the bio-based future from different perspectives, and in respect to the different potential for applications in the UK, USA and more widely, for example in developing economies."

Source: Imperial College London

Explore further: Crude conspiracy theories could be right, study shows

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Robot cameras monitor deep sea ecosystems

Jan 12, 2015

Scientists at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) have used advanced photographic tools in an unmanned Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to make major advancements in estimating deep-sea ecosystem diversity ...

Website shines light on renewable energy resources

Dec 18, 2014

A team from the University of Arizona and eight southwestern electric utility companies have built a pioneering web portal that provides insight into renewable energy sources and how they contribute to the ...

Building a worldwide genetic library BRIC-by-BRIC

Dec 12, 2014

A house is only as good as its foundation. Built solid and strong, the resulting structure should last for decades. NASA is laying a strong foundation of life science research with results from a recent investigation ...

Exxon sees abundant oil, gas far into future

Dec 09, 2014

North America, once a sponge that sucked in a significant portion of the world's oil, will instead be supplying the world with oil and other liquid hydrocarbons by the end of this decade, according to ExxonMobil's ...

Recommended for you

New tattoos discovered on Oetzi mummy

2 hours ago

With the aid of a non-invasive photographic technique, researchers at the EURAC-Institute for Mummies and the Iceman have been able to show up all the tattoos on the man who was found preserved in a glacier, ...

Study identifies common elements of STEM schools

3 hours ago

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics schools vary in many ways, but they share eight major common elements. So finds a nationwide study of 23 STEM schools conducted by the University of Chicago's Outlier Research ...

Long dry spell doomed Mexican city 1,000 years ago

5 hours ago

Archaeologists continue to debate the reasons for the collapse of many Central American cities and states, from Teotihuacan in Mexico to the Yucatan Maya, and climate change is considered one of the major ...

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.