Education and Outreach
To function as a worldwide bioenergy center of excellence, the GLBRC is developing programs that bring bioenergy breakthroughs and technology to stakeholders. Our stakeholders include other centers with complementary missions, both in the U.S. and abroad; academic and research hubs; regional, national and international members of the private sector; educators in the scientific, business, and academic community; and the general population.
To inform the scientific community, the GLBRC provides open access to published data and materials, including microbial strains and technologies we develop. To bring advances to our many stakeholders, the GLBRC partners to educate agricultural producers about practices that involve new biofuel crops, generates linkages with the private sector that help bring our technology to the marketplace, and educates scientists, students of all ages, and members of society about bioenergy issues and advances.
What are biofuels?
The bioeconomy is about more than biofuels, but the promise and the potential of biofuels for the economy and the environment have captured the attention of politicians, the public, and the media like no other bioproduct.
Plant sugars have been fermented into ethanol for thousands of years. Currently, most ethanol is made from starch from corn grain or sucrose from sugar cane. The goal of GLBRC scientists is to make ethanol from the sugars present in “lignocellulose”, which are found in all parts of plants, including leaves, stems, and wood.
Oils from plants such as canola, sunflowers, corn, and soybeans can be converted into a substitute for diesel fuel. Both ethanol and biodiesel are currently available to consumers, on a limited scale. Biodiesel and ethanol are typically sold as blends with regular gasoline or diesel fuel. For example, E85 is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline; B20 is 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent petroleum diesel.
Despite the recent rise in the prices of gasoline and diesel fuel, the major hurdle to the widespread use of biofuels is still cost. Although biomass raw materials are inexpensive (in fact, many are considered waste products, such as corn stalks and wood chips), the processing costs for turning biomass into ethanol and biodiesel is relatively expensive. At $20 per barrel, oil is clearly a cheaper source of liquid transportation fuels than biomass. Over about $120 per barrel, biofuels become economically competitive.
Aside from cost, biofuels have the potential to contribute in two additional significant ways to the worldwide energy problem. First, they can be produced locally, thus reducing dependence on unstable foreign markets and governments. Second, they produce lower amounts of greenhouse gases and thus can contribute to the amelioration of global warming.