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The Biofuel Pioneers

14 November 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang & Celene Adams

Dr. Kevin Gray, Director of Alternative Fuels at San Diego’s Diversa Corporation, is peering through his microscope at a termite. The termite lies, disemboweled, as Dr. Gray, wielding a tiny syringe, extracts the digestive juices within its entrails. These extracts will be used to make a renewable form of fuel, called ethanol.

Ethanol is a “biofuel,” one of the new energy sources that could give America – and the world – an alternative to fossil fuel or gasoline. It is cleaner than gasoline, thus doing less harm to the environment, and it is renewable.

A handful of San Diego companies including Diversa Corp are at the forefront of this industry, which turns organic material into fuel. San Diego’s “energy pioneers” are slogging through termites, cow dung, corn, soybeans, wood chips, used tires and even city sludge, looking for new ways to create energy.

“Using biomass solves two problems: You’re solving environmental problems and you’re producing fuel out of it,” said Dr. John Farrell, technology lead with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Biomass Program.

At least four San Diego companies are pioneering biofuel and biomass research. Diversa Corporation is cooking up the termite enzyme cocktails. BioRenewable Energy Projects is testing anerobic digestion — a method of mixing cow dung with food waste to make ethanol. Envirepel Energy Inc. is preparing to generate electricity by processing wastes commonly found in landfills, such as municipal city sludge, plastics and tires. And Bull Moose Energy, LLC is building plants that burn on woodwaste that would otherwise go to city dumps.

The Booming Green Energy Industries

Renewable energy industries are expected to more than quadruple in the coming decade

Biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel):
2005: $15.7 billion
2015: $52.5 billion

2005: $11.8 billion
2015: $48.5 billion

Solar (photovoltaics):
2005: $11.2 billion
2015: $51.1 billion

Hydrogen (fuel cell and distribution):
2005: $1.2 billion
2006: $15.1 billion

Total Global Growth:
2005: $40 billion
2015: $167 billion

- Source: “Clean Energy Trends 2006,” a study by Clean Edge, an environmental research and consulting firm, with offices in San Francisco and Portland, OR. cleanedge.com

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang

This article is part of a Green Energy series. Related Articles:

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