Energy 101: Biofuels

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Biomass is an organic renewable energy source that includes materials such as agriculture and forest residues, energy crops, and algae. Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy and its national laboratories are finding new, more efficient ways to convert biomass into biofuels that can take the place of conventional fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. This video shows how biomass is broken down and refined into sustainable biofuels via biochemical and thermochemical processes.

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Below is the text version for the Energy: 101 Biofuels video:

The video opens with "Energy 101: Biofuels." Time-lapse shot of airport traffic, followed by various shots of cars, trucks, airplanes, and trains in motion.

We all know that it takes a lot of fuel to keep our country running, right? Cars, trucks, planes, trains…

Shots of rural landscapes, followed by a shot of a biorefinery.

What if we could develop a homegrown, renewable source for those fuels? Well, good news — we already are!

Montage of biorefinery shots and shots of various feedstocks and harvesting.

We can create clean, renewable transportation fuels from plants, trees, and a range of other organic materials — in other words, biomass.

Shots of various feedstocks, followed by various laboratory and biorefinery shots, including researchers working.

Okay, so biomass is organic material — from forest thinnings and wastes…from crops grown to produce energy…and from other renewable energy sources like algae — that can all be converted into fuels. Scientists and engineers are finding new ways to make biofuels that can take the place of conventional fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.

Shots of vials of various feedstocks, followed by shots of harvesting and transportation of wheat straw, corn stover, and agricultural waste. Shot of a large vat of feedstocks being processed in a biorefinery.

Here's where biofuels have a great advantage: they can be made from leftovers, or waste products. For example, nonedible biomass sources like wheat straw and corn cobs are often left over from agricultural production…and some can actually be used to create fuel.

Shots of poplar tree harvest and switchgrass.

And in the near future, crops can be grown specifically for energy, like fast-growing trees and grasses.

Shots of interiors and exteriors of biorefineries, followed by shots of bioproducts and fueling systems, including a pipeline, tanker trucks, pumps, and vehicles fueling.

Right now, biorefineries with new technologies are being built to convert biomass into fuel, power, and even bioproducts like plastics, soaps, and cosmetics. And many biofuels can be seamlessly integrated into existing vehicles and fueling systems for diesel, gasoline, and even jet engines.

Shots of feedstock, vials of biofuels, and workers in a biorefinery.

So, how does it work? Essentially, biomass solids are broken down and then refined into biofuels. There are lots of ways to do this.

The words "Biochemical Refining" appear on screen. Shots of products and equipment in the biorefinery process. A biorefinery worker holds up a jar of clear biofuel.

Enzymes can be used to break down biomass into liquid sugars. Then, microbes like yeast ferment those sugars into renewable fuel.

The words "Thermochemical Refining" appear on screen. Shots of a thermochemical pilot plant and products.

Extreme heat can break down biomass, too. When you take oxygen out of the mix, biomass is rapidly broken down into a bio-crude oil that can be refined into biofuels.

The words "Thermochemical Gasification" appear on screen. Various shots of a thermochemical pilot plant.

Add a little bit of oxygen to extreme heat, and biomass solids are converted to a gas. And that gas can be converted into biofuel.

Various lab, feedstock, and process shots.

As technology develops, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy and its national laboratories are working to make more biofuels more efficient. Sustainable biomass resources, more effective enzymes, organisms and catalysts, all help to bring down the costs of producing biofuels.

Close-up shot of a vial of biofuel, followed by shots of planes and vehicles in motion.

The end result is fuel you can use anywhere — or any way that you would use petroleum-based fuel.

Shots of tractors harvesting crops.

Homegrown biofuels: clean and renewable…and a big step forward for America's energy security.

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