In the 2007 State of the Union speech, the president outlined energy policy priorities: reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and reduce green house gas emissions. Specifically, the nation needs to move towards energy security by reducing U.S. fuel usage by 20 percent in the next ten years, and by accelerating research and development of alternative fuel sources.
Among alternative fuel sources, biomass conversion to liquid fuel remains the most viable option with the greatest potential impact. A recent study by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assess the availability of biomass concluded: the U.S. could produce 1.3 billion dry tons of biomass for biofuel production without major changes in agricultural practice or adversely affecting the demands for food, feed, and exports.
Biomass is a renewable resource and can serve as the nation’s sustainable source of energy. The main technical barriers for widespread use of biomass-based fuel are, first, the conversion efficiency of biomass to biofuel, and second, a good understanding of the relationship between fuel properties and engine performance necessary to allow the development of fuel quality standards. The National Biofuels Energy Laboratory (NBEL) at NextEnergy, funded by DOE, was created to address the synthesis, characterization, and performance evaluation of biodiesel and biodiesel blends.
Biodiesel Challenges and Research Consortium
While biodiesel shows tremendous potential, there are still unresolved challenges to its complete acceptance. Among the top research priorities are: 1) fuel quality and quality standards; 2) fuel stability; and 3) cold flow properties. Moreover, there is an urgent need for a B-20 (20 percent blend of biodiesel with ultra-low sulfur diesel [ULSD]) specification to provide a standard for fuel quality that is acceptable to the automotive and engine manufacturers .
To address these challenges to widespread biodiesel use, a NBEL research consortium was formed with: Wayne State University (WSU); NextEnergy; Bosch; Delphi; DaimlerChysler; and Biodiesel Industries. The overall program objectives are to establish a sound technical basis for biodiesel that will assist in generating a B-20 ASTM specification, and to gain a comprehensive understanding of composition-property- performance relationships for biofuels. The Consortium aims to develop the next-generation of biodiesel with acceptable performance and cold flow and stability properties.
The ASTM B-20 specification is a very important issue for the biodiesel manufacturer, as well as for the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) for the automotive industry. NBEL’s mission is to translate the research findings into new applications and technologies to increase the overall use of biofuel, thus leading to better energy security for our nation while reducing green house gas emissions.