When we speak of “advanced biofuels” experts, we are referring to experts who can assist in successive generations of biofuels. To begin understanding what this means, we begin with the proposition that biofuels are currently loosely divided into four generations (although some combine the third and fourth generations into one). Thus, once we address a generation past the first generation of biofuels, everything else is an “advanced biofuel” – the question being how far advanced. Looking at the different generations of biofuels is a good starting point.
First-generation biofuels are those made from existing row crops like corn or soybeans, sugars, or vegetable oils. Opposition to these first-generation biofuels often stemmed from what we call the “food v. fuel” argument, i.e., the belief that using these feedstocks for fuel took them away from their use as food. That is an argument for another day. These original first-generation biofuels include biodiesel and ethanol.
Second-generation biofuels (the first advanced biofuels) are those that can be manufactured from various types of non-food biomass like perennial grasses, woody crops, agricultural residues, or a variety of different types of waste. Examples of second-generation biofuels are cellulosic ethanol and biohydrogen. Although there are exceptions, most second-generation biofuels are not derived from food crops, thus making them a more attractive option to some. An example is when a food crop has already fulfilled its food purpose and becomes the feedstock of second-generation biofuel. Waste vegetable oil (WVO) is a prime example. WVO produces a second-generation biofuel, that is made from something that has already been used, and is no longer fit for human consumption.
Generally speaking, first-generation biofuels are very easily extracted, using conventional technologies, while advanced biofuels are often more difficult to extract, using more complex technologies. This does not mean, however, that second-generation biofuels cannot be used directly. Several second-generation biofuels, like switchgrass, are cultivated specifically to act as direct biomass.
We think of third-generation biofuels as those using algal biomass or linked to the utilization of CO2 as feedstock. Unlike first-generation biofuels which were virtually all related to editable biomass, or second-generation biofuels produced from a wide array of different feedstocks, ranging from lignocellulosic feedstocks to municipal solid wastes, these third-generation biofuels are less developed but offer some potential advantages. Full-scale algal biofuel production, while progressing fast, is at the early stages of commercialization. However, once perfected, it will offer some key advantages – like much higher yields per acre and not competing for land or potable water with agriculture or forestry industries. “Fourth generation” biofuels is a relatively new term, normally encompassing the metabolic engineering of algae for producing biofuels from oxygenic photosynthetic microorganisms. Its use with algae is often why third and fourth generations are sometimes used interchangeably.
No matter what generation of biofuels is being produced, the success of the endeavor is always to make certain one fully understands the makeup and availability of the feedstock to be used, the processes that will be involved in the extraction of that feedstock, and the technology used in the conversion process of the feedstock into a biofuel. There is no substitute for having properly qualified advanced biofuels experts for guidance in these projects. Limiting the errors and risks is the name of the game.
Among its 150+ experts, Lee Enterprises Consulting has a wide range of services in bioenergy, biomaterials and chemicals, biotechnologies, and feedstocks. We certainly have specialists in all advanced biofuels. Take a look at our experts and the services we provide. You will note that most of our experts are also available for ancillary engagements and advice, for specialty engagements like serving as expert witnesses in litigation matters. A good overview of our group is found in this video. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information.