Overall funding for alternative fuels has shifted from venture capital investment to project financing, aimed at building up first and second facilities and getting them online. Many alternative fuel companies have raised capital from diverse sources, including private equity, loans, and loan guarantees by state and federal governments.
Other sources include corporate partners, such as oil companies interested in scaling up alternative fuels technologies to commercial production levels.
"There's reluctance among some investors because these are unproven technologies," said Soare, going on to say:
In particular, venture capitalists want higher, more likely returns. To mitigate this risk, one of the best strategies fuel companies take is building smaller-scale facilities that leverage existing infrastructure. For example, taking a corn ethanol plant that's no longer producing and retrofitting it to reduce overall cost.
Funding is also decreasing across the board, especially from federal and state governments focused on longer-term goals such as energy diversification and job creation. At the same time, funding from corporations is decreasing somewhat as they reduce investments. "The overall funding of new feedstocks is really a key strategy for oil companies to mitigate the long-term risk of oil price and supply volatility," said Soare.
An earlier Lux Research report on biofuel feedstocks found that by 2030, the available biomass will be insufficient to keep up with demand. Today, more than a billion metric tons of biomass are needed each year for replacing only 3 percent of petroleum-based fuels and chemicals, according to "Finding Feedstocks for the Bio-Based Fuels and Chemicals of Today and 2030."
"By 2030, this number will soar to 3.7 billion metric tons, and meeting the growing challenge will require feedstock innovations such as crop modification, new value chain configurations, and agronomic technology improvements like irrigation and biosensors," said Kalib Kersh, Lux Research analyst and a lead author of the report, in a press release.
This report found that several strategies are being pursued to improve feedstocks. The use of waste, such as municipal solid waste and waste gases like carbon dioxide and flue gas, is increasing. Many universities and companies are pursing research in crop modification, such as breeding plants that are resistance to pests and drought or that can fix their own nitrogen, to reduce their use of agricultural resources. Finally, some alternative fuel makers are developing infrastructure to cut fuel costs and transportation time, such as intermediate conversion facilities that feed into a central processing facility, in a "hub-and-spoke" model.
I agree, Laura, those fuels are on their way. But there are significant bumps along the road. For one, once alternative fuels get some traction in the market -- beyond their current single diget share -- the price of oil will come down, again making it attractive. Oil will look particularly attractive is there continues to be virtually no environmental restraint on its use.
I like your attitude, Cabe, to wait for a better option to any fuel-burning vehicle. I wish there were more people who shared it, particularly among the people in the industry making the decisions about what people drive.
All of the alternative fuels are based on solar power, either more directly or less. Using vegatable oils takes a bit of fuel to plant and harvest the feedstock, although it takes less if the feedstock is waste from other products. The various bio-diesel products using processed animal oils also depend on solar to raise the feed for those animals. And electric power to charge battery vehicles may come from some sort of fuel driven generation, although it may also come from hydro-electric sources, which ultimately are solar powered. So most vehicle movers already consume fuel in one way or another.
My preference would be to use liquid propane as a fuel, since the technology for those engines is well developed and the needed infrastructure for distribution is well understood. But widespread LP use would also have quite a few challenges, including the fact that at least half of the drivers in the US would have not a clue about how to dispense fuel into an LP powered vehicle. So safety and avoiding spillage would probably be show-stopping issues there.
Mydesign, interesting question about solar energy for vehicles. I remember hearing something about that back in the 60s, meaning people were looking in to it. My guess is there are two problems: 1) the same old problem of energy storage, but more important 2) the energy density isn't high enough to power a car, and doing so would require enormous collectors as well as enormous batteries. But that's just a guess. Does anybody know?
I had the same reaction as oldguywithtoys: the fuels are essentially the same chemically--which is why diesels, anyhow, can be drop-in replacements--so a pipeline break isn't going to produce anything worse with petro-fuel than with biofuel.
Biofuels are manufactured substitutes for fossil fuels. They're still oils and gasses that have to be moved from the point of manufacture or refinement to the point of use. It doesn't matter whether the liquid flowing through a pipeline is pulled out of the ground or manufactured: it's still oil and a pipeline break is still a problem. The Arkansas leak, in and of itself, is not a reason to demand a switch to biofuels.
Ann, there are lots of R&D is going for alternate fuels. As of now only electrical vehicles are in market using alternate energy sources. Why researchers are not looking for solar energy for automobiles, any particular reason?
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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