Imperial authored Science paper named one of the most influential in its field.
By Danielle Reeves
Friday 24 October
Biofuels 'manifesto' creates a stir in scientific circles
An Imperial co-authored research paper mapping the way forward for sustainable biofuel production has been named one of the most influential studies of the last 10 years in its field.
The paper, titled 'The path forward for biofuels and biomaterials' appeared in the journal Science in 2006, and has been cited in over 150 subsequent academic studies, according to Thomson Sciencewatch's Essential Science Indicators, a resource which tracks research performance and trends in science.
Professor Richard Templer, Director of Imperial's Porter Institute for bioenergy and biomaterials research, one of the authors of the 2006 paper, explains that it was intended as a manifesto for the sustainable production of fuel, power, chemicals and materials in integrated biorefineries of the future.
One of the key points raised in the paper, Professor Templer says, is that the whole plant needs to be used, not just the bits from which its easy to extract sugar to make alcohol to burn as fuel:
Sugars, which can be used to produce alcohol as fuel, are found in many different parts of a plant," he says. "They are the basic building blocks of cellulose and lignin, the long chain polymers which form cell walls, keep plants upright and form constitute 80 per cent of the plant's mass above ground.
"Getting sugars out of these parts of plants is not easy because cell walls are designed by nature to be tough to break down. But it’s vital that we find economic, environmentally friendly ways of doing so, to get the maximum value out of the plants we use for producing fuels and chemicals.”
Since this Science paper was published, the authors have been working on developing a number of new technologies. One of these can release the sugars available in cell walls without using much energy or releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases. Professor Templer says they will soon be describing this new method which they feel could have a major impact on the efficiency of biofuels production, making this kind of green energy a commercially and environmentally viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Commenting on the reaction to the paper in the scientific community, he said: "We're all very pleased to see that our paper has been taken on board and cited by so many other scientists working in this field. Despite some opposition to biofuels from non governmental organisations and politicians, plant-derived fuel and energy will be a vital technology in reducing carbon dioxide emissions as the world makes the transition to other energy forms and this will be especially true for the developing world.
"Plants will, in the long term, be our only source of organic chemicals and materials. The integrated biorefinery we described in the paper will be the focus for the future sustainable use of plants."
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