Fuels produced from biomass provide unique environmental, economic and social benefits and can be considered as a safe and clean liquid fuel alternative to fossil fuels. The biomass resource base is composed of a wide variety of biomass wastes, such as forestry resources, agricultural wastes, industrial processing residues, municipal solid wastes and marine resources.
Significant progress has been made in the past several years in all aspects of cellulosic and lignocellulosic biomass conversion to ethanol. The areas of focus include low-cost thermochemical pretreatment, highly effective enzymes and efficient and robust fermentative microorganisms. Innovation in industrial biotechnology, especially in the development of enzymes and genetically engineered microorganisms, is the key to the success of biofuel programs at commercial scale. A good deal of research efforts are focused on exploring combinations of thermal, chemical and biological processes to develop the most efficient and economical route for the commercial production of cellulosic ethanol.
A biorefinery takes advantage of the various components in biomass and their intermediates by producing several products, therefore maximizing the value derived from the biomass feedstock. A biorefinery could produce high-value chemicals and transportation fuels, such as biodiesel or bioethanol. At the same time, it can generate electricity and process heat, through CHP technology, for its own use and perhaps enough for sale of electricity to the local utility.
Algae-based technologies could provide a key tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and other carbon intensive industrial processes. In addition, algae production has great promise because algae generate higher energy yields and require much less space to grow than conventional feedstocks.