Innovations are moving the bioenergy industry forward. Photos courtesy of Virgin Atlantic (left), Sapphire Energy, Inc. (center), and DC Water’s Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (right). Watch the video <a href="; target="_blank">Bioenergy Innovation</a> to hear bioenergy researchers explain what “bioenergy innovation” means to them.

At the Energy Department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), we think of innovation as a way to work toward continuously improving the world that we are leaving for future generations. Research funded by BETO is surpassing the limits of conventional science in the new and emerging bioenergy market with innovations in fuels, chemicals, and products that can reduce both petroleum imports and greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. These critical breakthroughs are the connecting pieces to the larger picture of bringing bioenergy to the commercial market. To kick off Energy Action Month and celebrate National Bioenergy Day on October 19, below are three bioenergy innovations that are helping to provide Americans with sustainable, renewable energy and alternatives to fossil fuels and chemicals.

1. Renewable Jet Fuel from Industrial Waste Gases

Commercial airline Virgin Atlantic announced that it will use renewable jet fuel produced by LanzaTech, beginning with a “proving flight” in as early as 2017. LanzaTech uses a process that converts carbon-rich industrial waste gases—such as carbon monoxide from steel production—into fuel for airplanes. LanzaTech and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed this process with BETO funding, and it can provide a sustainable source of renewable jet fuel that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the transportation sector and provide an innovative solution to industrial waste management. Many more efforts are underway to scale-up renewable aviation fuel innovations.

2. “Algal Turf Scrubbers” Fuel Cars and Clean Up Pollution

Scientists are tapping into the power of microorganisms to benefit the environment. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are using BETO funding to investigate how to develop “Algal Turf Scrubbers”—long thread-like algae that could be strategically installed near storm water or wastewater runoff sites to absorb excess phosphorus and nitrogen from agricultural sites. Excess phosphorus and nitrogen can harm aquatic ecosystems; however, Algal Turf Scrubbers can mitigate this problem. Then the algae can be converted into biofuel. Sandia researchers are determining how to use algal turf scrubbers to both clean the water and to be harvested to produce biofuel.

3. Biofuel from Sludge Waste

With BETO funding, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and industry partners are working to develop a technology to produce biofuel from wet wastes at water treatment plants. Each year the United States treats approximately 11 trillion gallons of municipal wastewater, generating about 7 million tons of dry sewage sludge. Managing and disposing of this sludge is costly, accounting for nearly 45%–65% of a treatment plants total operating expenses. Converting this sludge into renewable fuels could provide an economically viable alternative and could transform today’s water treatment plants into a new generation of water resource recovery facilities.

The energy resources we use and the ways in which we use them are rapidly changing. For the United States to successfully transition to a transportation system that is sustainable, reliable, affordable, and efficient, more innovations are needed. BETO investments help support projects through the innovation pipeline, addressing barriers and accelerating the path to market for emerging bioenergy technologies. Please join us in celebrating Energy Action Month and continue to follow our coverage of bioenergy success stories throughout the month of October.

Jonathan Male
Dr. Jonathan Male is the former director for the Bioenergy Technologies Office. In this role, he led the Office’s work to lower costs, reduce technical risk, and accelerate deployment of bioenergy and renewable chemicals technologies.
more by this author