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Whatever Happened to Biofuels?

April 21st, 2014

Episode 362 of 558 episodes

Biofuels were hailed as the environmental solution to fossil fuels not that long ago. Made from living crops they take up carbon dioxide as they grow. So burning them shouldn’t disturb the balance of warming gases in the atmosphere. But for the last few years the publicity about biofuels has been mainly negative. And for good reason – biofuels are made from crops such as oil palm - grown in place of food crops or even rainforests. In some cases using these crops actually produces more CO2 than burning fossil fuels. However research is being done into new kinds of biofuels that aren’t in competition with food crops. Gaia Vince travels to Bavaria in Germany to meet Dr Markus Rarbach, head of biofuels at Clariant. This company has set up a demonstration plant that produces ethanol from sugars in the waste products of wheat grown nearby. Also on the programme is professor Gregory Tucker from Nottingham University who talks about research into new ways of getting sugars out of the inedible parts of crops; agricultural economist, Dr Paul Wilson, discusses what farmers think about making biofuels out of their straw; and Dr Angela Karp at Rothamsted Research, who is growing new willow varieties, which could be made into biofuels. Image Credit: Clariant