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Kevin Bullis

A View from Kevin Bullis

New Ways to Make Renewable Diesel Fuel

DOE plans to fund research into organisms that make fuel without photosynthesis.

  • December 7, 2009

When the new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E) requested proposals for its first round of funding, it received thousands of them, but only 43 received any cash. Some of the other proposals will get a second chance in another funding round focused on three interesting areas of research, which Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced today.

The first is research into something called “electrofuels,” which the agency describes as a “new paradigm for the production of liquid fuels.” The idea is to engineer organisms that can convert carbon dioxide into liquid fuels such as diesel, but not through photosynthesis. It sounds a little convoluted. First you take energy from the sun and use it to produce hydrogen, electricity, or some other “energy carrier.” Engineered organisms then use this energy to convert carbon dioxide into fuel. The hope is that this will prove more efficient than photosynthesis.

I’m working on a story that will have more detail on this approach to making fuels; I hope to get it up on the website this week.

The agency will also be funding research into cheap, high energy batteries and into carbon dioxide capture from coal fired power plants. The first round also funded some projects in this area.

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