I was recently at an intersection waiting for the stop light to change when I spotted a vehicle with a Flexfuel decal. Having been desensitized by a plethora of Clean Air decals for hybrid and electric vehicles, the sight of the Flexfuel decal caused me to reflect on what ever happened to the growing demand for biofuel. Introduced in the 1990s, Flexfuel vehicles (link to U.S. Department of Energy Flex-fuels page), or FFV, were designed to run on pure gasoline or a blend of up to 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline, referred to as E85. Ethanol, or bioethanol when used as a fuel, is a renewable energy source (link to USDE alternative fuels data center page) produced from corn, cellulosic feedstock, or other plant material that serves to oxygenate the gasoline, reduce air pollution, and reduce dependence on fossil fuel.
Demand for biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel (link to USDE page on biodiesel), a direct substitute for diesel fossil fuel made from vegetable oils, animal fat, or recycle grease, has taken a hit, with the price for oil dropping below $60 per barrel. However, with projected growth in energy consumption returning, petroleum producers (link to BP press release) are predicting a demand for renewable fuels taking a larger share as an energy source.
Renewable biofuels, like fossil fuels, are not without regulatory standards requirements for purity and acceptable levels of contamination. To meet consumer demand and satisfy production requirements, fast, reliable and accurate instrumentation is needed.
Solutions for Biofuels Analysis
Chromatography and spectroscopy solutions deliver critical information about the biofuel process. However, deciding which technique is best suited for the process and what detector to use based on the chemical composition of the analyte can be daunting. To more effectively zero in on appropriate technology and product, a workflow approach quickly highlights a choice of available products ranked according to relative instrument sensitivity and analyte of interest, for bioalcohol and biodiesel processes, from research to production (Figure 1). Products include solvent extractor, IC, LC, GC, ICP-OES, and NIR (links to product pages).
Figure 1: Biofuel Workflows
Typical analytical challenges include satisfying biofuel purity standards by analyzing a range of contaminants, side products, and residual starting material, such as glycerol in biodiesel production processes. Instrument challenges include understanding the choice of available detectors and knowing which one to select based on the analyte of interest, process needs, and sensitivity requirements. For example, choices for analyzing carbohydrates include using IC-PAD (pulsed amperometic detection) for compounds containing oxidizable functional groups or LC-RI (refractive index) for compounds containing UV-Vis absorbing chromophores.
To learn more about the choice of available instruments, detectors, and methods for bioalcohol and biodiesel processes, and in preparation for a resurgence in biofuels, please click on the new Biofuels Application Notebook .
Is your lab interested in biofuels analysis? If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts.