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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Biofuels

Biofules can support renewable transition strategies in four key ways:

  1. Biofuels are carbon neutral: each new growth of crops takes back up the carbon dioxide that was released when the previous growth was burned.
  2. Some biofuels (eg biodiesel and biohydrogen) offer a competitive short-to-medium term route to renewable transport fuels. Around half of the UK’s energy use goes to transport; biodiesel and bioethanol can slot into our existing energy infrastructure, and be used by our current internal combustion engines.
  3. Less energy-dense biofuels (eg biogas) are cheap and easy to generate, offering real potential for energy security in rural areas in lower-income countries.
  4. Biomass can be used to replace the chemical feedstocks that also come from petrochemicals and which are used to make plastics and artificial fibres.

Durham University’s biofuel research looks at the technical aspects of biofuel generation, processing and combustion, across a range of disciplines and international collaborations. We also recognise that biofuels present societal and environmental challenges and their use can therefore be influenced by societal perceptions and policy direction.

For example: how should societies direct water supplies, how should they allocate crop land, how should changes to traditional lifestyles be considered, and how might biodiversity and its ecosystems be affected by biomass farming?

DEI helps Durham’s biofuel research to integrate physical and life science research with considerations of the social, economic and policy dimensions of biofuels in helping the 21st Century to move from a hydrocarbon to a carbohydrate economy.

Key Research Areas

Novel biomass sources: how can biomass be grown renewably?

  • What land crops can be used for biomass?
  • Can macroalgae (seaweeds) be used as marine biomass?

How can biofuels be generated more efficiently from biomass?

  • Can we improve chemical biomass pretreatments?
  • Can we improve biotechnology pathways to enhance yields?
    • Life cycle analysis of algae oil production and processing
    • Microalgae modification to produce i) higher lipid yields, ii) better processing routes for lipid extraction, and iii) well defined lipid profiles
    • Developing new microbial platforms to manipulate and process seaweed biomass for fermentation and anaerobic digestion
    • Enhancing yields of Cellulosic Crops through improved biomass, starch and oil accumulation, quicker growth and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses

Improved biofuel generation technologies: Can we improve the engines that burn biofuels?

  • Advanced bio-fuel combustion and emissions analysis in internal combustion engines;
  • Biomass and waste gasification with integrated carbon capture and storage;
  • Bio-hydrogen production from organic waste;
  • Nanoparticles and their influence on improving diesel emissions;
  • A study of the characteristics of spray and combustion of sustainable fuels;

Social, economic and policy dimensions of biofuels

  • Market penetration of biofuels: how can biofuels be made economically viable?
  • Life cycle analysis of biofuels;
  • Community responses to biofuels, including attitudes to GM in biofuel
  • Investment decisions at household, community and national levels
  • Governance of biofuels and structures shaping adoption of biofuels
  • Transnational ethics and intellectual property issues
  • Biofuels as socio-technical systems – investigating how and why some biofuels fail as technologies while others succeed
  • Developing pathways for biofuels: governing energy technologies in transition.
  • Biofuels ethics
  • Potential of biofules for Transport and Aviation

Research Projects: