Fall 2010 IAB
September 15 to 17

Chris Somerville, Director, Energy Biosciences Institute

The Development of Cellulosic Biofuels

Because plants can be deployed on a large scale to capture and store solar energy, one way of moving toward the development of carbon neutral energy sources is to use plant biomass for production of fuels. In considering this possibility, the Secretary of Energy of the US has called for the replacement of 30% of the liquid fuels used in the US with biofuels by 2030. In brief, the efficient production of biofuels by routes other than gasification will require innovation in three main areas: sustainable production of feedstocks that do not compete with food production, depolymerization of feedstocks, and conversion of feedstocks to fuels. At present, it is expected that gasoline and diesel replacements will ultimately be derived from cellulosic biomass. In this respect there is renewed interest in identifying plants that have optimal biomass accumulation and understanding the production issues associated with large-scale cultivation and sustainable harvesting of such species. Additionally, the importance of enhancing soil carbon and nutrient retention while minimizing inputs will require an integrated approach to the development of cellulosic energy crops. The challenges on the processing side include the development of improved catalysts for polysaccharide and lignin depolymerization and conversion to fuels as well as the development of microbial strains that can convert a wide range of sugars to next generation fuels under harsh conditions.