Biofuels: The future of Ethanol

A recent development in the world of biofuels is the application of something called GVL.  GVL (gamma-valerolactone) was invented as a biofuel in and of itself, but was a failure.  However, some scientists as the University of Wisconsin-Madison have used GVL as an enzyme in the production of a completely separate biofuel.  The results are impressive.  The greatest challenge facing biofuels is the cost to produce them.  Biofuels are a renewable energy source and burn cleaner, so the potential for an energy source is already there.  In production, the most expensive process is the removal of cellulose and lignen from plant matter.  It is time consuming and difficult.  GVL is being used to accelerate this process.  It naturally destroys these parts of plant matter in a much quicker time.  The best part is that GVL is reusable.  After the breakdown of cellulose is complete, the GVL and plant matter naturally separate, much like salad dressing not shaken for a while.  GVL can lower the cost of producing ethanol by 30 to 50 cents.  That accounts for almost 10% of the production cost.  This was a small-scale study and further experiments will be conducted soon to see how well the project transfers to a larger test.  The prospects look good for right now.

            It’s unclear how much ethanol will impact the world of the automobile.  The Department of Energy estimates that by 2030 biofuels such as ethanol could replace one-third of the gasoline market.  Critics say that the production of ethanol is still too expensive and that it may eat into the corn supply too much.  This new method of production could drop the price of production from $5.13 to $4.87 a gallon.  As gasoline becomes more expensive in the future, and the price of biofuel production drops, I think it’s entirely possible that we see an increase in biofuel consumption.


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