ByTaylor Ratcliffe

May 26, 2020
close-up of algae used in biofuel research

The field of energy development has been constantly expanding, improving existing methods of gaining electricity from green sources, and developing or discovering new methods of generating power.

One facet of the field of green energy is biofuel, fuel made from a biological source that regrows quickly. You may already be familiar with ethanol fuel or biodiesel. But there have been several advances in the field within the last few years.

Fuel From Bacteria

Big advances can come from small places. A recent project conducted by HelioBioSys found that three strains of cyanobacteria — aquatic organisms that grow in massive colonies — release an extremely high amount of sugar into the waters they live in. Extracting these sugars from the water is relatively easy, and those sugars could be processed into alcohol-based biofuels, such as ethanol.

Given how easily the bacteria grows, the main issues are preventing bacterial overload and preventing other things from growing in the sugary water. But, with the assistance of Sandia National Laboratories, HelioBioSys has already been working with indoor growing ponds. Eventually, they will expand testing into outdoor ponds.

Biomedical Hybrid Biofuel Cell

A new glucose-powered biofuel energy cell that uses cotton fiber electrodes shows promise for biomedical uses. The Georgia Institute of Technology and Korea University used a technique to infuse gold nanoparticles into the cotton fibers, which help with the fuel cell’s efficiency.

The improved efficiency of the device is not the only benefit of the inclusion of cotton; cotton fibers may improve its biocompatibility, its ability to function inside the human body. The biofuel energy cell could be coupled with batteries in pacemakers, used as a power source for time-release implants for medications, or other biomedical applications.

Sweat-powered Biofuel Cells

On the subject of biodevices, a new patent suggests that in the future, the sweat off your brow might help power some of your technology. Scientists at the Université Grenoble Alpes and the University of San Diego collaborated to create a flexible, wearable patch that can generate electricity from the process of sweating.

The biofuel cell can continuously power an LED  and is fairly simple — and inexpensive — to produce. The researchers are working to improve the voltage the cell provides in order to power larger devices.

Fuel From Waste Cooking Oil

In the field of reusing an old material, cooking oil is currently good for two things after it’s been used for cooking: destroying indoor piping and being processed into biofuel. We don’t recommend using it to destroy your pipes, but researchers at Aarhus University are developing a system that could break down organic waste into biofuel that works with petroleum-based mechanics.

The key in this research is an enzyme found in microalgae that can break down fatty acids into alkanes. It essentially turns fats into fuel directly. The researchers are trying to develop different versions of the enzyme to produce specific alkanes/fuels and preparing for larger scale production in the future.

By Taylor Ratcliffe

Taylor Ratcliffe is Earth911's customer support and database manager. He is a graduate of the University of Washington.