“Advanced biofuels,” as defined by the Energy Independence and Security Act, are renewable fuels that produce at least 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than the fossil fuels they replace. Derived from cellulosic biomass sources not used as food or feed (that means corn-based ethanol doesn’t count), advocates praise advanced biofuels for their potential to create jobs and significantly reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. Combustion of these fuels is also “carbon-neutral,” meaning it does not contribute to an increase in greenhouse gases. A lot of progress has been made in the field of advanced biofuels research over the past few years. But producing a fuel in a test tube is not the same as producing it at the scale required to power an engine outside the lab.
This month, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (aka, Berkeley Lab) took an important step toward getting advanced biofuels ready for the real world. Berkeley Lab announced the official opening of the Advanced Biofuels Process Demonstration Unit (ABPDU), a “15,000-square-foot state-of-the art facility designed to help expedite the commercialization of advanced next-generation biofuels.”
The ABPDU will provide researchers with a facility in which discoveries made in the laboratory can be tested at the industry scale. The Emeryville, Calif., facility is designed to produce 11 to 20 liters of biofuel per day, a quantity sufficient for engine testing.
The project was funded through a $20 million grant from the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in 2010. Under the terms of the award, Berkeley Lab will receive an additional $3 million a year to operate the ABPDU, making it available for use to institutions and organizations involved in biofuels research and development, both within and outside of the Department of Energy.