Want to fill up your Volkswagen or Hummer on renewables, as Arnold Schwarzenegger does? Biodiesel, a vegetable-oil based variant on petroleum diesel, is your fuel. As we pointed out last week, the fuel doesn’t get as much attention as high-tech biofuels like cellulosic ethanol and “green” gasoline. However, substances called furanics may help bring biodiesel back into the spotlight.
Furanics, while not actually identical to biodiesel, might as well be — they burn in diesel engines quite well. Two researchers at the University of California, Davis say that a process they developed to reduce plant matter to furanics could be more efficient than existing methods for making cellulosic ethanol.
That should be a red flag for the ethanol industry, because furanics would use the same sort of feedstocks that current cellulosic ethanol processes do — woody materials like switchgrass and pulped timber. But cellulosic ethanol has proved difficult to make, requiring energy-intensive processes to break down the stiff cellulosic fibers. Professors Mascal and Nikitin say they’ve hit on a simple process to directly convert cellulose into furan.
Interestingly, it appears that Chevron Technology Ventures, the oil giant’s venture investment arm, helped fund the UC Davis researchers with a grant. Chevron isn’t the only oil company interested in furanics; as Gas 2.0 points out, Shell spun off Avantium to commercialize the same biofuel.
Separately, it’s beginning to look like jatropha will work well as a feedstock for regular biodiesel. Following our article on Innovation Fuels last Thursday, another company has announced funding to work with the oil-producing plant. Globes is reporting that Galten, an Israeli startup, has taken $10 million in funding led by Xpert Financial Group.
Where Innovation is looking to grow the plant in Asia, though, Galten has laid its chips on Africa, with a lease on 500,000 acres in Ghana. According to their own calculations, if all of the land were planted, it would be enough for a significant 600,000 tons of oil per planting, which transfers fairly directly to biodiesel.