Biofuel can be defined as the process of converting organic-based matter into burnable fuel as a replacement for fossil fuel. It is a renewable energy source, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal, and nuclear fuels. The production of biofuels has been in active development for years, most recently spurred on by President George W. Bush, who said in his 2006 State of the Union speech that he wants the US to replace 75% of the oil it imports from the Middle East with biofuels by 2025.

Biomass into Biofuel

One of the most common sources of biomass (used to create biofuels) is agricultural products. Those specifically grown for use as biofuels include corn and soybeans, primarily in the United States; flaxseed and rapeseed, primarily in Europe; sugar cane in Brazil; and palm oil in Southeast Asia. One unintended consequence of the rise in biofuel production is the escalation of food commodity prices; corn prices are rising as corn-based ethanol production grows, and there is concern that there is not enough agricultural production to support both the world’s food and fuel needs from the same resources.

Other biomass resources include straw, timber, rice husks, biodegradable waste, and food leftovers. Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, founder of SUN Microsystems and a major investor in both Brazilian biofuels and cellulosic ethanol says that the biofuels industry is poised for exponential growth and that biofuels made from cellulose appear to be the most promising alternative fuels over the long-term. Cellulose, one of the most abundant organic materials on earth, can be converted into liquid fuels either via a biochemical or a thermochemical conversion process. The quality of timber or grassy biomass does not have a direct impact on its value as an energy source, so waste products created in producing a commercial product can be used effectively (for example, rice husks from harvesting rice kernels, sawdust from manufacturing lumber, etc.).

For more information on recent developments in biofuels, visit; for renewable energy sources in general, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory,, covers biofuel, wind, solar fuel cell and geothermal energy research.


Originally Published: June 1, 2007