Renewable fuels: A challenge for technology or for policy?

McDonnell Douglas Engineering Auditorium

ChEMS Seminar

Speaker: Dr. Harvey Blanch

University of California Berkeley & Joint BioEnergy Institute

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Berkeley, Calif.


Currently, biofuels such as ethanol are produced largely from grains, but there is a large resource of plant biomass that could be utilized as a renewable, domestic source of liquid fuels. The development of cost-effective processes to transform the cellulosic content of biomass into fuels is hampered by significant roadblocks, including the lack of specifically-developed energy crops, the difficulty in separating biomass components, the activity of enzymes used to deconstruct biomass, and the inhibitory effect of fuels and processing byproducts on organisms responsible for producing fuels from biomass monomers.

Nearly forty years ago, the US faced challenges when supplies of petroleum were cut and approaches to convert lignocellulosic biomass to transportation fuels were developed.  Despite the considerable advances in technology made since then, only corn-derived ethanol has provided a route to alternative fuels. We will review the history and roadblocks, both technical and political, of biomass conversion to fuels.



Harvey Blanch is Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UC Berkeley. He is Senior Faculty Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Chief Science and Technology Officer of the Joint Bioenergy Institute. His research has focused on transport, kinetics and thermodynamics in enzymatic and microbial processes. He has employed molecular thermodynamics to understand and design protein separations processes, including aqueous two-phase extraction, hydrogel behavior and protein aggregation and precipitation. He is a Fellow of AAAS, the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers and a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.