Biofuels offer renewable alternatives to petroleum-based fuels that reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to nearly zero. However, traditional biofuels production is limited not only by the small amount of solar energy that plants convert through photosynthesis into biological materials, but also by inefficient processes for converting these biological materials into fuels. Farm-ready, non-food crops are needed that produce fuels or fuel-like precursors at significantly lower costs with significantly higher productivity. To make biofuels cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels, biofuels production costs must be cut in half.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass Amherst) is developing an enhanced, biofuels-producing variant of Camelina, a drought-resistant, cold-tolerant oilseed crop that can be grown in many places other plants cannot. The team is working to incorporate several genetic traits into Camelina that increases its natural ability to produce oils and add the production of energy-dense terpene molecules that can be easily converted into liquid fuels. UMass Amherst is also experimenting with translating a component common in algae to Camelina that should allow the plants to absorb higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), which aids in enhancing photosynthesis and fuel conversion. The process will first be demonstrated in tobacco before being applied in Camelina.
If successful, UMass Amherst's project will create biofuels from Camelina that could serve as a cost-competitive replacement for petroleum-based fuels.
The transportation sector accounts for nearly all of our petroleum imports. Providing an advanced biofuels alternative to petroleum will allow the U.S. to reduce these imports, improving our energy independence.
More than 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from the transportation sector. Because plants naturally absorb CO2 as they grow, the level of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels is less than half that of petroleum fuels.
The U.S. imports nearly $1 billion in petroleum each day, accounting for the single largest factor in our trade balance with the rest of the world. Biofuels can be produced domestically, allowing us to keep more dollars at home.