Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels made from biomass. Biomass is simply any organic matter, or dead material, derived from plants or animals. Biomass may include wood, agricultural crops, forestry residues, aquatic crops, municipal waste, or animal waste, amongst other things. Biofuels are similar to fossil fuels in that they are both made from organic matter. However, fossil fuels take millions of years to form, making it a non-renewable energy resource since humans cannot wait around for fossil fuels to form. In contrast, biofuels can be produced in days, weeks, or months, and need not be made by a living organism—they can be produced in an industrial or laboratory setting.
Biofuels are primarily used for transportation, but biofuels can also be used as a source of hydrogen to power fuel cells and produce electricity. Two of the most commonly used biofuels today are ethanol and biodiesel, but there are other biofuels as well.
Ethanol is an alternative fuel made from corn and other plant materials. Over 95% of gasoline used in the United States contains E10 (that is, a blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline) to oxygenate the fuel and reduce air pollution. Ethanol is also available as E85 (that is, a blend of 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline). E85 is typically used in flex-fuel vehicles, which use gasoline, E85, or a blend of both.
Biodiesel is a biodegradable fuel that is produced mainly from vegetable oil, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease. Biodiesel can act as a substitute for petroleum diesel. B20 (that is, a blend of 20% biodiesel, 80% petroleum diesel) is the most common blend of biodiesel. While this can be used in diesel vehicles, many vehicle manufacturers do not cover biodiesel use in their warranties (more details found at the National Biodiesel Board’s OEM Information page).
See below for embedded maps on stations for biodiesel and ethanol.
Other uses of Biomass
Biopower is the production of electricity or heat from biomass. Technologies include direct combustion, co-firing and anaerobic digestion.
- Direct combustion is a process that uses conventional boilers and is the primary form of electricity production from biomass. Waste wood products from wood-processing industries is the main source that is burned in the boilers, which in turn, produce steam that spin a turbine. This process activates a generator that produces electricity.
- Co-firing involves replacing a portion of the petroleum-based fuel in high-efficiency coal-fired boilers with biomass. Co-firing has been successfully demonstrated in most boiler technologies. Co-firing biomass can significantly reduce the sulfur dioxide emissions of coal-fired power plants and is a least-cost renewable energy option for many power producers.
- Anaerobic digestion, or methane recovery, is a common technology used to convert organic waste to electricity or heat. In anaerobic digestion, organic matter is decomposed by bacteria in the absence of oxygen to produce methane and other byproducts that form a renewable natural gas.
- Pyrolysis and thermal gasification transforms organic materials into gaseous components.
(Sources: U.S. DOE; Energy Future Coalition Biofuels.org)
See below for a list of Southern California’s waste-to-energy facilities.
Source: UC Davis Biomass Collaborative, 2013 Update
Resources on biofuels:
This list includes links related to biodiesel as per afdc.energy.gov. These are not recommended or endorsed, they are other organizations whose websites may offer more information on biodiesel, ethanol, and biofuels in general.
- 2013 Biomass Research and Development National Biofuels Action Plan
- California Bioenergy Action Plan
- Department of Energy Alternative Fuel Data Center
- Department of Energy Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
- U.S. Department of Transportation
|Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels.||Colorado Center for Biorefining and Biofuels is an umbrella group for 27 organizations that are advancing biofuels technologies toward commercialization|
|NREL ReFUEL Laboratory||NREL’s Renewable Fuels and Lubricants (ReFUEL) Research Laboratory is a test facility for advanced fuels in heavy-duty engines and vehicles and advanced heavy hybrid vehicles.|
|NREL Biomass Research||The mission of the Biomass Research Division at NREL is to lead a national effort to develop innovative, market-driven biotechnologies for producing fuels and chemicals from renewable resources.|
|National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR)||NCAUR invents new uses of agriculture commodities for industrial and food products, develops new technology to improve environmental quality, and provides technical support to federal regulatory and action agencies. The center’s fuels and chemicals division is working on new ways to increase the production of both ethanol and biodiesel.|
|National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)||As the nation’s leading center for renewable energy research, NREL develops new energy technologies to benefit both the environment and the economy. The laboratory’s main areas of focus are solar power and photovoltaics, wind energy, alternative fuel vehicles and transportation, buildings and thermal systems, electricity technologies, fuels and chemicals, industrial technologies, measurements and testing, and renewable energy resources.|
|Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University||The Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University was established in December 2001 to identify, develop, and implement the means for achieving a sustainable energy future. The Institute focuses on issues relating to formation of public policy, conservation, efficient use of energy, renewable energy sources, protection of environmental resources, and the dissemination of technical information to users and providers of energy.|
|U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Genomics||The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science’s Genomics:GTL Program uses new genomic data and high-throughput technologies to study the proteins encoded by microbial and plant genomes and explore their amazingly diverse natural capabilities. The Web site includes research and development related to biofuels.|
|Biofuel Producers and Suppliers|
|BiofuelsConnect||BiofuelsConnect brokers over-the-counter biodiesel and ethanol both domestically and internationally. They broker spot deals, short-term or long-term contracts, from truckloads to rail cars to vessel quantities. They are the alternative fuels division of OceanConnect.com.|
|Golden Gate Biofuels||Golden Gate Biofuels is a fuel provider that offers biodiesel to both agricultural and commercial customers in transportation, construction, and petroleum reseller markets.|
|New Leaf Biofuel||San Diego-based biofuel producer. New Leaf makes biodiesel waste cooking oil collected from local restaurants. They have the capacity to produce over 6 million gallons of fuel each year.|
|Prairie Pride, Inc.||Prairie Pride, Inc., located in Deerfield in west central Missouri, converts soybeans into biodiesel fuel and soy meal. Their new soybean extraction/biodiesel refinery can yield 30 million gallons of biodiesel a year.|
|Process Engineering Associates, LLC||Process Engineering Associates is an independent process design company providing Biodiesel plant designs using a wide variety of different feed stocks to create renewable, alternatives to petroleum based products. Services are provided exclusively via qualified chemical engineers.|
|Pure Energy Corporation.||Pure Energy Corporation is a bio-based fuels and chemicals company focused on bridging the fossil energy and the renewable energy industries with environmentally friendlier and commercially viable fuels and additives|
|SC Fuels||SC Fuels is one of the largest suppliers of branded, unbranded, and alternative transportation fuels and home heating oil in the|
|SeQuential Pacific (formerly Bently Biofuels)||U.S.SeQuential Pacific (formerly Bently Biofuels Company) produces biodiesel from seed oils and recycled restaurant grease.|
|Taylor Oil Company||For the past 30 years, Taylor Oil Co. has provided direct-to-equipment fueling on job sites. Headquartered in Somerville, New Jersey, Taylor Oil Co. currently supplies biodiesel to fleets throughout the Northeast.|
|Blue Sun Biodiesel||Blue Sun Biodiesel, LLC is a vertically integrated agriculture-energy company and marketer of premium agricultural and renewable fuel products. Blue Sun offers its products and services as proprietary oilseed crops, additives, quality assurance, blending, and distribution infrastructure.|
|Creative Discovery Museum||This website is an educational resource for both students and teachers to help the next generation better understand biofuels and future energy sources.|
|BioCycle||BioCycle Magazine focuses magazine articles on recycling residual fats into value added products including the production of ethanol and biodiesel from waste materials.|
|Clean Cities||DOE’s Clean Cities Program supports public-private partnerships that deploy AFVs and build supporting alternative fuel infrastructure.|
|Energy Information Administration (EIA)||EIA is a statistical agency of DOE. It provides policy-independent data, forecasts, and analyses to promote sound policy making, efficient markets, and public understanding regarding energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment as well as alternative fuel production and use.|
|Global Biofuels Center – International Fuel Quality Center (IFQC)||Stratas Advisors’ (International Fuel Quality Center) mission is to make global fuel and related information more available to regulators, refiners, technology providers and the automotive industry. IFQC supplies information about global usage of biofuels for transportation, dedicated and flex-fuel vehicles and emissions, and detailed country reports on policies and taxation as well as fuel quality regulations.|
|U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Alternative Fuels||This EPA Web site provides information on alternative fuels, including fact sheets, certification procedures and emission standards, emission models, and related links.|
|Energy Management Institute||The Energy Management Institute publishes the Alternative Fuels Index, a subscription-based service that focuses on seven alternative fuel products approved by the Department of Energy to meet current alternative fuel U.S. standards. Those fuels include biodiesel, ethanol, propane, methanol, electricity, hydrogen, and natural gas. Coverage includes industry commentary relating to supply, price, policy and news as well as detailed price and trend analysis at the wholesale level.|
|Oak Ridge National Laboratory Biomass Energy Data Book||The Biomass Energy Data Book draws together biomass data from diverse sources to produce a comprehensive document that supports anyone with an interest or stake in the biomass industry.|
|Sun Grant Bioweb||Sun Grant BioWeb is a compilation of current information about using biomass resources for bioenergy and bioproducts.|
|OilheatAmerica||Let OilheatAmerica be your link to the latest news on advancements in Oilheat equipment and in the fuel itself, important tips on conserving energy around your home, and helpful ideas on maximizing your comfort and peace of mind every day.|
|American Petroleum Institute (API)American||API is the major national trade association representing the entire petroleum industry from exploration and production to transportation, refining, and marketing. It acts as a forum for all parts of the oil and natural gas industry to pursue priority public policy objectives and advance the interests of the industry.|
|National Biodiesel Board (NBB)||
NBB is the national trade association representing the biodiesel industry as the coordinating body for research and development in the United States. NBB has developed into a comprehensive industry association, which coordinates and interacts with a broad range of constituents including industry, government, and academia. NBB’s membership is composed of state, national, and international feedstock and feedstock processor organizations, biodiesel suppliers, fuel marketers and distributors, and technology providers. NBB provides 24 hour information on biodiesel availability through 866-BIODIESEL.
|United Soybean Board||The United Soybean Board is an organization committed to implementing new technologies that will improve the United States soybean industry in terms of market expansion and production quality including the use of soybean oils in biodiesel fuels.|
|Soybean Association (ASA)||The American Soybean Association is a national trade association representing soybean growers in the United States. Its mission is to improve U.S. soybean farmer profitability.|
|Biofuel-specific Projects and Programs|
|Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean School Bus USA||The goal of Clean School Bus USA is to reduce both children’s exposure to diesel exhaust and the amount of air pollution created by diesel school buses.|
|U.S. Department of Energy Biomass Program||This Biomass Program site focuses on U.S. Department of Energy biomass R&D and provides a wealth of information about biomass technologies, policies, and funding opportunities.|
|Sun Grant Initiative||The Sun Grant Initiative is a network of land-grant universities and U.S. DOE laboratories partnering to build a biobased economy. Its mission is to develop, distribute, and implement biobased energy technologies to enhance U.S. energy security, promote agricultural diversification and environmental sustainability, and promote opportunities for biobased economic diversification in rural communities. It includes the Sun Grant BioWeb, a compliation of current information about using biomass resources for bioenergy and bioproducts.|
|USDA Renewable Energy Assessment Project (REAP)||REAP is determining the amount of cellulosic crop residue is needed to protect the soil resource, comparing economic implications of using stover as a bioenergy feedstock versus as a source of carbon to build soil organic carbon. REAP is formulating harvest rate recommendations and guidelines|
|Bio-Beetle Rental Car||Located on the island of Maui in Hawaii, Bio-Beetle Rental Car offers several models of biodiesel-fueled Volkswagon cars with various options.|
|Other Biofuel Stakeholders|
|Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)||This is the official Web site of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). It serves a dual purpose, directing you to detailed information about EERE, its programs, and the technologies that it is developing, and provides a portal to worldwide information about energy efficiency and renewable energy.|
|Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)||EPA is the federal agency charged with protecting human health and safeguarding the natural environment-air, water, and land-on which the well being of the nation depends.|
|Fed World||Fed World is a comprehensive access point for searching, locating, ordering, and acquiring government and business information.|
|Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC)||The Clean Fuels Development Coalition (CFDC) is a not-for-profit organization that actively supports the development and production of fuels that can reduce air pollution and lessen dependence on imported oil. CFDC supports the development of a national energy strategy, passage of clean fuel legislation and regulations, and the fostering of new fuel technologies and manufacturing processes.|
|Governors’ Biofuels Coalition||The Governors’ Biofuels Coalition is composed of 35 state executives with international representatives from Brazil; Canada; Mexico; Quebec, Canada; Thailand; Queensland, Australia; and Sweden. The coalition supports the production of biodiesel and ethanol from corn or other domestic, renewable resources using sustainable agricultural methods and encourages its use in the transportation sector.|
|It All Adds Up to Cleaner Air||It All Adds Up to Cleaner Air is a collaborative effort of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), EPA’s Office of Mobile Sources, and DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Since 1991, these agencies have been working with state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to help them meet goals for reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality established by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) and Clean Air Act.|
|Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP)||The goal of The Surface Transportation Policy Project is to ensure that transportation policy and investments help conserve energy, protect environmental and aesthetic quality, strengthen the economy, promote social equity, and make communities more livable. It emphasizes the needs of people, rather than vehicles, in assuring access to jobs, services, and recreational opportunities.|
|Toyota Environment||Toyota’s environment site features news on the latest clean vehicle technology being developed, including hybrid and fuel cell vehicles.|
|USDA Commodity Operations||The Commodity Operations Program seeks to expand industrial consumption of agricultural commodities by promoting their use in production of bioenergy (ethanol and biodiesel).|
|USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service||The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service provides timely, accurate, and useful statistics in service to U.S. agriculture.|