Biofuels are increasingly being explored as a viable energy resource, and can help address numerous environmental, societal and economic concerns that stem from the use of conventional fuel sources. The College of the Environment’s scientists and partners are immersed in ground-breaking research aimed at solving technical, production and social challenges associated with biofuel development so biofuels can ultimately play a prominent role in our nation’s and world’s energy future.


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The issue

There is growing concern among all sectors of society about meeting an ever-growing global appetite for energy. Over the past century, petroleum-based fuels have largely met this demand but ,a limited supply and environmental effects have led to a call for cleaner, diversified and renewable sources of power.

Among numerous alternative energy sources being explored, biofuels are an important component to developing a diverse energy portfolio. Benefits include reduced CO2 emissions, the renewable nature of the raw materials and the role biofuels can play in creating a secure energy future. Yet to realize their full potential, advancements in numerous disciplines must be comprehensively explored.

The role of the College

College researchers are leading the way towards better understanding the application of biofuels in the real-world, their benefits to human society and ecosystems and the role they can play in advancing a cleaner and greener, energy economy.

Rigorous research and strong partnerships

Researchers at the College strengthen their work – both in terms of scientific rigor and application to real world scenarios – through rich collaborations and partnerships with government, industry, tribes and others.

$40 million biofuel grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Researchers in the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences secured a $40 million USDA grant to advance the science of biofuels. Research will focus on the commercial production of bio-based aviation, diesel and gasoline fuels using cultivated poplars grown on tree farms. A critical component of this work will examine potential social and environmental impacts of biofuel production. Multiple academic – both within and outside of UW – and industry partners are participating in this work, leveraging a broad spectrum of expertise that allows this project to dive deeply into numerous aspects of biofuel development, production and commercial use.

Bioresource Science and Engineering Group

The Bioresource Science and Engineering Group examines the conversion of plant biomass to fuels, chemicals and other high value products. Scientists in the group run a highly interdisciplinary program, and work closely with partners from multiple units within UW, including Chemical Engineering, Chemistry and Mechanical Engineering. The goal of their research is advance the understanding of the fundamental science of biomass conversion and to develop new processes for making fuels, chemicals and; bio-based products that are economically viable and environmentally beneficial.

Research throughout the College (biofuel faculty)

In addition to the above initiatives, there are many research labs throughout the College that are advancing the science of biofuels through various courses of study, including deriving renewable energy from forest carbon, production of jet fuel from woody biomass and the assessment of overall carbon footprints stemming from biofuel use as opposed to fossil fuel.

Fostering new leaders

Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Award

In partnership with numerous colleges and faculty, the Bio-Resource based Energy for Sustainable Societies is a National Science Foundation sponsored IGERT-run program through the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences that weaves multi-cultural elements into the overall study of students working towards their Ph.D. in bio-resource related fields. During the program, students and faculty gain classroom, project and dissertation-based experiences that allow them to assess the lifecycle implications of technical designs, and to understand natural resources from the perspective of indigenous cultures. The centerpiece of the curriculum is a two quarter multidisciplinary design and resource management project in year two that involves collaboration with Washington State Native American communities.

Coursework on biofuels

Within the College’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, students are learning what it takes to become leaders in this growing field. Undergraduate and graduate students train through a mix of classroom-based and hands-on curricula that focus on biofuel production, carbon sequestration, bioresource engineering and current practices and their improvement to name a few. Undergraduates can choose to focus on a Bioresource Science and Engineering track of study, and graduates can explore the world of biofuel development through both Masters and Ph.D. level research.