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Biofuel Basics

July 30, 2013 - 11:38am


Photo of a woman in goggles handling a machine filled with biofuels.Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels produced from biomass. Most biofuels are used for transportation, but some are used as fuels to produce electricity. The expanded use of biofuels offers an array of benefits for our energy security, economic growth, and environment.

Current biofuels research focuses on new forms of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, and on biofuels conversion processes.


Ethanol—an alcohol—is made primarily from the starch in corn grain. It is most commonly used as an additive to petroleum-based fuels to reduce toxic air emissions and increase octane. Today, roughly half of the gasoline sold in the United States includes 5%-10% ethanol.

Learn more about ethanol basics.


Biodiesel use is relatively small, but its benefits to air quality are dramatic.

Biodiesel is produced through a process that combines organically-derived oils with alcohol (ethanol or methanol) in the presence of a catalyst to form ethyl or methyl ester. The biomass-derived ethyl or methyl esters can be blended with conventional diesel fuel or used as a neat fuel (100% biodiesel).

Learn more about biodiesel basics.

Biofuel Conversion Processes

Biomass solids can be converted to liquid or gaseous biofuels in a variety of processes. Learn more about biofuels conversion processes.