Skip navigation



Biofuels -- What they are made from? Which countries are spearheading their development and use? And are they a viable fuel of the future?

Dr Scott Tinker gives us the short story on biofuels: "We’ve been making them for more than a century. But they’re still not quite there yet. Biofuels are basically sugar, fermented into alcohol. And on a much smaller scale, plant oil or even algae, turned into diesel. Brazil has been most successful with biofuels, making ethanol that’s cheaper than gasoline. But everywhere else, it’s still more expensive. And mostly, they’re made from food crops, grown on farmland, with lots of water, fertilizer and energy required. Many challenges."

"But there’s a new biofuel process that breaks down the cellulose of the plant, its woody structure, into sugars that can be fermented. This means that the whole plant, any plant, grown anywhere, can be used. The most promising have been perennial grasses, that can be planted once, then harvested for many years. They can grow on land that may not be suitable for food crops, with less water and fertilizer. In colder climates, fast growing shrubs and trees are well suited. And the ability to use lumber and food waste make this technology very promising."

"But so far cellulosic fuel is experimental. It’s been hard to scale up into pilot plants, like this one, and there are no commercial plants, anywhere in the world. This is largely because cellulosic ethanol is currently three times as costly as Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol. Some predict that in a few decades it could be the cheapest liquid fuel anywhere. If so, the sheer acreage required to fuel global transportation will be the limiting factor."

Learn more at