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287ab9cee690ea6648bf065ee8184f99.pngAfrican Green Fuels

Bio-Fuels in South Africa

Ethanol and Biodiesel are the only viable alternative to conventional fossil fuels. They are clean and green and help strengthen our economy and protect the air we breathe. African Green Fuels [AGF] is in the process of applying for a license to produce bio-fuels. Our production facilities will be located on a farm in Hammanskraal.

AGF Ethanol Plant

[In million litres per year (Mmly)]

Plant Name

African Green Fuels






Various Feedstocks


120 Mmly


Proposed Plant

AFG Bio-diesel Plant
[In million litres per year (Mmly)]

Plant Name

African Green Fuels








120 Mmly


Proposed Plant

South African fuel producers will begin mandatory blending of petrol and diesel with biofuels from 1 October 2015 as the country moves to encourage investment in its biofuels sector and reduce its reliance on imported fuel. Announcing the date of commencement on Monday, Energy Minister Ben Martins noted that the government had approved South Africa's biofuels industrial strategy in December 2007, envisaging a five-year pilot phase aimed at achieving a 2% biofuels penetration into the national liquid fuels pool. However, incentives such as a 50% rebate
on the general fuel levy for biodiesel manufacturers and a fuel tax exemption for bioethanol producers had been insufficient to lure investments in the biofuels sector, "hence the need for establishing a more enabling and supportive regulatory framework", Martins said in a statement.

A Biofuels Pricing Framework would be finalised by the end of 2013, the minister said, and a Biofuels Implementation Committee had been set up to resolve all "practical or operational aspects pertaining to the blending of biofuels with mineral petrol and diesel". Biofuels include bioethanol, which is produced from sugar and starch crops such as sugarcane and sugar beet, and biodiesel, which is produced from vegetable oils such as canola, sunflower and soya. The government has excluded maize, South Africa's staple food, from use in biofuels production. The Department of Energy's chief director for clean energy
, told Members of Parliament in January that eight companies had been granted licences, or provisional licences, to produce bioethanol or biodiesel in South Africa. South Africa's biofuels strategy aims to stimulate the production of suitable crops in areas of the country that have been under-used for agriculture. The director indicated that a feasibility study conducted by her department in 2006 had indicated that the production of 400-million litres of biofuels a year in the country could create up to 25 000 new jobs.


How Bio-diesel is Made


  • Biodiesel is a clean burning renewable fuel made using natural vegetable oils and fats.
  • Biodiesel is made through a chemical process which converts oils and fats of natural origin into fatty acid methyl esters (FAME).  Biodiesel IS NOT vegetable oil.
  • Biodiesel is intended to be used as a replacement for petroleum diesel fuel, or can be blended with petroleum diesel fuel in any proportion.
  • Biodiesel does not require modifications to a diesel engine to be used.
  • Biodiesel has reduced exhaust emissions compared to petroleum diesel fuel.
  • Biodiesel has lower toxicity compared to petroleum diesel fuel.
  • Biodiesel is safer to handle compared to petroleum diesel fuel.
  • Biodiesel quality is governed by ASTM D 6751 quality parameters.
  • Biodiesel is biodegradable.


The smartest technologies deliver benefits to multiple interests, including an improved economy, and a positive impact on the environment and governmental policies.

The role of the biodiesel industry is not to replace petroleum diesel, but to help create a balanced energy policy with the most benefit to the United States. Biodiesel is one of several alternative fuels designed to extend the usefulness of petroleum, and the longevity and cleanliness of diesel engines.

The ultimate goal is to contribute to building a stronger, more self-sufficient community by way of a community-based biodiesel production model.  A community-based biodiesel distribution program benefits local economies, from the farmers growing the feedstock to local businesses producing and distributing the fuel to the end consumer.  The money stays in the community while reducing impact on the local environment and increasing energy security.

Easy to

One of the great advantages of biodiesel is that it can be used in existing engines, vehicles and infrastructure with practically no changes.  Biodiesel can be pumped, stored and burned just like petroleum diesel fuel, and can be used pure, or in blends with petroleum diesel fuel in any proportion.  Power and fuel economy using biodiesel is practically identical to petroleum diesel fuel, and year round operation can be achieved by blending with diesel fuel.

DOE Biodiesel Handling and Use Guidelines

Engine and Vehicles
All diesel engines and vehicles can use biodiesel or biodiesel blends.  Certain older vehicles built before 1993 may require replacement of fuel lines which contain natural rubber, as biodiesel can cause these lines to swell or crack.

Blending and Switching with Diesel Fuel
Biodiesel can be used 100% (B100) or in blends with petroleum diesel fuel.  Blends are indicated by B##, which correspond to the percentage of biodiesel in the blended fuel.  For example, a 20% blend of biodiesel with 80% diesel fuel is called B20.  When biodiesel is first used in a vehicle, it may release fuel tank deposits which can lead to fuel filter plugging.  After this initial period, a user can switch between biodiesel and petroleum diesel whenever needed or desired, without modification. 

Power, Performance and Economy

Many alternative fuels have difficulty gaining acceptance because they do not provide similar performance to their petroleum counterparts.  Pure biodiesel and biodiesel blended with petroleum diesel fuel provide very similar horsepower, torque, and fuel mileage compared to petroleum diesel fuel.  In its pure form, typical biodiesel will have an energy content 5%-10% lower than typical petroleum diesel.  However it should be noted that petroleum diesel fuel energy content can vary as much as 15% from one supplier to the next.  The lower energy content of biodiesel translates into slightly reduced performance when biodiesel is used in 100% form, although users typically report little noticeable change in mileage or performance.  When blended with petroleum diesel at B20 levels, there is less than 2% change in fuel energy content, with users typically reporting no noticeable change in mileage or economy. 

Superior Lubrication for Your Engine
The injection system of many diesel engines relies on the fuel to lubricate its parts.  The degree to which fuel provides proper lubrication is its lubricity.  Low lubricity petroleum diesel fuel can cause premature failure of injection system components and decreased performance.  Biodiesel provides excellent lubricity to the fuel injection system.  Recently, with the introduction of low sulfur and ultra low sulfur diesel fuel, many of the compounds which previously provided lubricating properties to petrodiesel fuel have been removed.  By blending biodiesel in amounts as little as 5%, the lubricity of ultra low sulfur diesel can be dramatically improved, and the life of an engine’s fuel injection system extended. 

Biodiesel in Cold Weather
Just like petroleum diesel fuel, biodiesel can gel in cold weather.  The best way to use biodiesel during the colder months is to blend it with winterized diesel fuel. 

Emissions & Greenhouse Gas reduction

Biodiesel is the only alternative fuel to successfully complete the EPA’s rigorous emissions and health effects study under the Clean Air Act.  Biodiesel provides significantly reduced emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, unburned hydrocarbons, and sulfates compared to petroleum diesel fuel. Additionally, biodiesel reduces emissions of carcinogenic compounds by as much as 85% compared with petrodiesel.  When blended with petroleum diesel fuel, these emissions reductions are generally directly proportional to the amount of biodiesel in the blend. 

Close Contact Benefits from the “French Fry Fuel”
The reduced particulate and unburned hydrocarbons emissions that result when using biodiesel are a welcome relief in environments where workers and pedestrians are in close proximity to diesel engines, including public transport, mining, and construction.  In addition, when high blends of biodiesel are used, the exhaust from diesel engines is often described as smelling like fried food, which aside from causing increased hunger in those nearby, is a welcome relief from the smell of diesel fuel exhaust.

A Clean Alternative Fuel for New and Old Engines
Diesel engines have long had a reputation of being “dirty” engines. However, with the advent of newer diesel engines equipped with exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), particulate filters, and catalytic converters, clean diesel technology provides incredible fuel efficiency with ultra low emissions levels.  When coupled with the use of biodiesel, both new and old diesel engines can significantly reduce emissions, including particulate matter (black smoke). 

A Closer Look at Emissions Reduction

Studies on biodiesel emissions have been conducted for almost 20 years.  In that time biodiesel has undergone the most rigorous testing of any alternative fuel, having been the first and only fuel to be evaluated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act Section 211(b).  This study examined the impact of hundreds of regulated and non-regulated exhaust emissions, as well as the potential health effects of these emissions.  Some of these results are summarized below.

Average Exhaust Emissions for 100% Biodiesel Compared to Petroleum Diesel Fuel*
Regulated Exhaust Emissions B100
Particulate Matter -47%
Carbon Monoxide -48%
Total Unburned Hydrocarbons -67%
Nitrogen Oxides +/-
Non Regulated Emissions
Sulfates -100%
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) -80%
Nitrated Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (nPAH) -90%
Speciated Hydrocarbons Ozone Forming Potential -50%

Explanation of Emission Types

Particulate Matter (Black Smoke)
Emissions of particulate matter have been linked to respiratory diseases and are generally considered to be a human health hazard.  Emissions of particulate matter are reduced with biodiesel by 47%.

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon Monoxide is a poisonous gas.  Reduced with biodiesel by 48%.

Total Unburned Hydrocarbons
Compounds which contribute to localized formation of smog.  Reduced with biodiesel by 67%.

Nitrogen Oxides
Compounds which contribute to localized formation of smog. According to NREL (Biodiesel Handling and Use Guidelines 2009 revision) examination of the NOx testing results shows that the effect of biodiesel can vary with engine design, calibration, and test cycle. At this time, the data are insufficient for users to conclude anything about the average effect of B20 on NOx, other than that it is likely very close to zero.

Sulfates are major contributors to acid rain.  These emissions are practically eliminated when using biodiesel.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH and nPAH)
These compounds have been identified as carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds.  Biodiesel reduces emissions of these compounds by up to 85% for PAH compounds and 90% for nPAH compounds.

Speciated Hydrocarbons
These compounds contribute to the formation of localized smog and ozone.  The potential for smog formation from speciated hydrocarbons is reduced by 50% when using biodiesel.

Life Cycle Reduction of CO2
Biodiesel helps reduce the risk of global warming by reducing net carbon emissions to the atmosphere.  When biodiesel is burned, it releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but crops which are used to produce biodiesel take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in their growth cycle.  A joint study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Energy determined that biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere by 78.5% compared with petroleum diesel fuel.

Energy Balance and Security

Energy Balance
The energy balance of a fuel is a ratio of how much energy is required to produce, refine and distribute the fuel compared to the amount of energy the fuel releases when it is burned.  This property is used to determine how “renewable” a fuel is.  A higher ratio indicates a lower environmental impact, as less fossil energy is needed to produce, refine and distribute the fuel. Biodiesel has a very high energy balance compared to other alternative fuels.  A joint study found that on average biodiesel releases 3.2 units of energy for every one unit of fossil fuel energy used to produce it*.  For comparison, diesel fuel delivers only 0.83 units of energy for every unit of fossil fuel energy used to produce it.

Grown, Produced and Distributed Locally
Worldwide, energy security is becoming a hot topic in government and society.  Nearly every country in the world depends on imports of various forms of fossil fuel energy, including oil, coal and natural gas.  Without a steady supply of affordable energy a country’s economy grinds to a halt, with no fuel for transportation, energy to run power plants and factories, or heat homes.  Biodiesel can improve energy security wherever it is produced in several ways:

Domestic Energy Crops
When crops used to produce biodiesel are grown in the country in which the fuel is consumed, each gallon of biodiesel displaces a gallon of imported crude oil, reducing a country’s dependence on foreign oil supplies.

Increased Refining Capacity
Biodiesel is produced in dedicated refineries which add to overall domestic refining capacity, eliminating the need to import expensive finished product from other countries.

Difficult Targets
When biodiesel is produced, distributed and used locally in a community-based model it presents a much more difficult target for a potential terrorist attack than large centralized facilities like oil refineries or pipelines used in the petroleum industry.

In the United States, the biodiesel industry is supported by the Energy Policy Act (EPAct) compliance strategy. This legislation allows EPAct-covered fleets (federal, state and public utility fleets) to meet their alternative fuel vehicle purchase requirements simply by buying 450 gallons of pure biodiesel, and burning it in new or existing diesel vehicles in at least a 20% blend with diesel fuel. The Congressional Budget Office and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have confirmed that the biodiesel option is the least-cost alternative fuel option for meeting the Federal government’s EPAct compliance requirements.

Toxicity, Biodegradability, Safety & Recycling

Though it is uncommon for the average person to come into direct contact with fuels, occasional spills do occur, and the impact of the fuel on plants and animals must be considered.  Biodiesel has been proven to be much less toxic than diesel fuel, and is readily biodegradable.  These attributes make it less likely to harm the environment if an accidental spill occurred, and far less costly to repair damage and clean up. 

Less Toxic than Table Salt
Being derived from vegetable oils, biodiesel is naturally non-toxic. The acute oral LD50 (lethal dose) of biodiesel is more than 17.4 g/Kg.  By comparison table salt (NaCl) has an LD50 of 3.0g/Kg.  This means that table salt is almost 6 times more toxic than biodiesel.4

Aquatic Impacts
In an aquatic environment, biodiesel is 15 times less toxic to common species of fish than diesel fuel.4

In both soil and water, biodiesel degraded at a rate 4 times faster than regular diesel fuel, with nearly 80% of the carbon in the fuel being readily converted by soil and water borne organisms in as little as 28 day.4

* Peterson, Charles and Moller, Gregory.  “Biodegradability, BOD4, COD and Toxicity of Biodiesel Fuels”, University of Idaho Biodiesel Education Program.

A Safe and Stable Fuel
Biodiesel is safer to handle than petroleum fuel because of its low volatility.  Due to the high energy content of all liquid fuels, there is a danger of accidental ignition when the fuel is being stored, transported, or transferred.  The possibility of having an accidental ignition is related in part to the temperature at which the fuel will create enough vapors to ignite, known as the flash point temperature.  The lower the flash point of a fuel is, the lower the temperature at which the fuel can form a combustible mixture.  For example, gasoline has a flash point of -40 F, which means that gasoline can form a combustible mixture at temperatures as low as -40 F.  Biodiesel on the other hand has a flash point of over 266 F, meaning it cannot form a combustible mixture until it is heated well above the boiling point of water.  It is rare that fuel is subjected to these types of conditions, making biodiesel significantly safer to store, handle, and transport than petroleum diesel.  In fact, the National Fire Protection Association classifies biodiesel as a non-flammable liquid. 

Recycling: Recovering Energy Resources
Biodiesel can be made from many different oils and fats, including many waste products.  Waste cooking oil, normally disposed of or used in animal feed mixtures can be converted to high quality biodiesel using a process employed by companies such as Pacific Biodiesel Technologies.  The use of used cooking oils as a biodiesel feedstock has increased their value significantly in recent years, making proper collection and recycling of these oils more cost effective, and lowering the volume of these oils destined for sewers and landfills.  Other low value oils and fats which can be made into biodiesel include yellow grease, inedible tallow, and trap grease.  In one example of the benefits of how biodiesel production can increase recycling, the Pacific Biodiesel production facilities in the Hawaiian islands have diverted nearly 190,000 tons of used cooking oil and grease trap waste since they began production. 

Economic Development

Energy Dollars Stay In Communities
Since biodiesel is a fuel which can be created from locally available resources, it’s production and use can provide a host of economic benefits for local communities.  The community-based model of biodiesel production is particularly beneficial.  In this model, locally available feedstocks are collected, converted to biodiesel, then distributed and used within the community.  This model keeps energy dollars in the community instead of sending them to foreign oil producers and refineries outside the community.  The peripheral benefits of this type of model are different for each case, but can include:

  • Increased tax base from biodiesel production operations.
  • Jobs created for feedstock farming and/or collection.
  • Skilled jobs created for biodiesel production and distribution.
  • Income for local feedstock producers and refiners.

Sustainable Farming and Value Added Agriculture
Biodiesel feedstock can come from a variety of agricultural crops.  When these crops are grown in a sustainable manner, using good stewardship practices, there are long term benefits to farmers, farming communities and the land. Many crops which yield oils used for biodiesel production can be a beneficial rotation for other food crops, including soybeans when used in a traditional corn rotation, and canola when used in a wheat rotation.  Using crops in rotation can improve soil health and reduce erosion. The overall impacts of growing energy crops are complex, with thousands of variables.  However, the added value created for oilseed crops by the production of biodiesel is a tangible benefit for farming communities, and when coupled with sustainable farming practices can provide benefits to farming communities and the environment. 

Sustainable Biodiesel Production
Since there are multiple feedstocks from which to make biodiesel, plant operators can opt for the least expensive feedstock currently available, if they have a multiple-feedstock system.  This flexibility makes producers less subject to price fluctuations.

One example of this is noted by the prices of soybean oil.  Its price has doubled in recent years, and is predicted to continue to rise according to a 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study projects a total cash crop increase of $5.2 billion by 2010 — an average net increase to farms of $300 million per year — with soybean prices increasing 17 cents per bushel annually over that period.

Everybody Wins
Ultimately this creates multiple beneficiaries of the production of biodiesel.  By virtue of a successful market and feedstock flexibility, plant operators and farmers can both continue to operate in a marketplace with increases in revenue projected to bring $24 billion to the U.S. by 2015.

Biodiesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel. It is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as fast as sugar. Produced domestically with natural resources, its use decreases our dependence on imported fuel and contributes to our own economy.

Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that will reduce South Africa's dependence on foreign petroleum, create jobs,
and improve the environment. It is made from a diverse mix of feedstocks including:

  • recycled cooking oil
  • soybean oil
  • and animal fats
Bio-fuels have increased in popularity because of rising oil prices and the need for energy security. Bio-ethanol is an alcohol made by fermentation, mostly from carbohydrates produced in sugar or starch crops such as corn, sugarcane or sweet sorghum. Cellulosic biomass, derived from non-food sources, such as trees and grasses, is also being developed as a feedstock for ethanol production.
Ethanol can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. Biodiesel can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common biofuel in Europe.


Ethanol Plant Tour

Biologically produced alcohols, most commonly ethanol, and less commonly propanol and butanol, are produced by the action of microorganisms and enzymes through the fermentation of sugars or starches (easiest), or cellulose (which is more difficult). Biobutanol (also called bio-gasoline) is often claimed to provide a direct replacement for gasoline, because it can be used directly in a gasoline engine (in a similar way to biodiesel in diesel engines).

Ethanol fuel is the most common bio-fuel worldwide, particularly in Brazil. Alcohol fuels are produced by fermentation of sugars derived from wheat, corn, sugar beets, sugar cane, molasses, and any sugar or starch from which alcoholic beverages can be made (such as potato and fruit waste, etc.). The ethanol production methods used are enzyme digestion (to release sugars from stored starches), fermentation of the sugars, distillation and drying. The distillation process requires significant energy input for heat (often unsustainable natural gas fossil fuel, but cellulosic biomass such as bagasse, the waste left after sugar cane is pressed to extract its juice, can also be used more sustainably).

Ethanol can be used in petrol engines as a replacement for gasoline; it can be mixed with gasoline to any percentage. Most existing car petrol engines can run on blends of up to 15% bio-ethanol with petroleum/gasoline. Ethanol has a smaller energy density than that of gasoline; this means it takes more fuel (volume and mass) to produce the same amount of work. An advantage of ethanol (CH
) is that it has a higher octane rating than ethanol-free gasoline available at roadside gas stations, which allows an increase of an engine's compression ratio for increased thermal efficiency. In high-altitude (thin air) locations, some states mandate a mix of gasoline and ethanol as a winter oxidizer to reduce atmospheric pollution emissions.


Hielscher's Ultrasonic 32MMGY Biodiesel Ractor

Inline Ultrasonic Mixing of Oil and Methanol

Ultrasonic mixing reactors for the production of biodiesel at any scale. The ultrasonic mixing improves mass transfer and reaction kinetics leading to faster transesterification and higher yield. It saves excess methanol and catalyst.


Biodiesel is a fuel made mostly from crops with seeds that contain oil. Oilseed crops in the U.S. include soybeans and canola (called “rapeseed” in Europe). In tropical regions, palm and jatropha are promising oilseed crops. Palm trees are abundant oil producers, but, in some places, native forests have been cleared to allow their cultivation, raising environmental concerns. Jatropha bushes grow well under adverse conditions and are seen as a tool to fight desertification. Biodiesel can also be made from used cooking oil and animal fats.

Raw vegetable oil is turned into biodiesel through a chemical process called transesterification that separates out glycerin for use in soaps and other products and leaves behind methyl esters (the technical term for biodiesel). The process can also produce valuable by-products. For example, for each pound of soybean oil crushed out of the beans, more than four pounds of a high-protein animal feed called “meal” is created.

Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines as a pure fuel or blended with petroleum with little or no modification. In the U.S., biodiesel is usually blended with petroleum at low levels, from 2% (B2) to 20% (B20). But in other parts of the world such as Europe, higher-level blends -- up to B100 -- are used.

• In 1897, Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his first engine – running on peanut oil.

Biodiesel typically has a higher cetane rating than petroleum diesel. The cetane rating is a measure of diesel’s combustion quality – similar to an octane rating for gasoline. Biodiesel also has better lubricity – a measure of lubricating properties – than current low-sulfur petroleum diesel and much better lubricity than the ultra-low-sulfur petroleum diesel introduced in 2006. This quality makes it attractive for blending. Lubricity is important for fuel injectors and some types of fuel pumps. A 1- or 2-% blend of biodiesel in low-sulfur petroleum diesel improves lubricity substantially.

At low temperatures, diesel fuel can clog fuel lines and filters in a vehicle’s fuel system. At even lower temperatures, diesel fuel becomes a gel that cannot be pumped. The performance of biodiesel in cold conditions is markedly worse than that of petroleum diesel, and biodiesel made from “yellow grease’’ sources such as french fry oil is worse than soybean biodiesel. However, additives can be used to alleviate these problems.
Because the energy content of biodiesel is roughly 10% lower than that of petroleum diesel, B20 has very slightly lower power, torque, and fuel economy, although some users have seen gains in fuel economy, possibly due to the increased lubricity. Biodiesel dramatically reduces most emissions, including carbon dioxide. A recent analysis of biodiesel emissions found a life-cycle greenhouse gas reduction of 41%. However, the effect of biodiesel on emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which lead to smog formation, remains unclear. Engine tests have shown an increase of more than 13% for pure biodiesel and nearly 3% for B20, but some on-road tests have shown a decrease.

Biodiesel from soybeans costs an estimated $2 to $2.50 per gallon to produce. Biodiesel from yellow grease is about $1 a gallon cheaper, but the available supply in the U.S. is much smaller – enough to make 100 million gallons per year. Producers of biodiesel from pure vegetable oil are eligible for a federal excise tax credit of $1 for every gallon blended with conventional diesel. Biodiesel from used cooking oil earns a credit of 50 cents per gallon.

Attempting to use domestic fats and oils to replace a large share of the 60 billion gallons of diesel consumed in the U.S. each year could quickly exhaust available feedstock supplies and push vegetable oil prices significantly higher, due to the steady demand for vegetable oils in food consumption. According to one analysis, the U.S. could produce 300 to 350 million gallons of biodiesel from animal fats and greases and soybean oil without major disruption of soybean oil markets but would need to utilize other feedstocks or import other oils to expand biodiesel production much beyond this level. The largest markets for biodiesel probably will be as a lubricity additive, as a cetane booster, and in situations where low emissions are highly valued, such as school and transit buses.

Biodiesel is defined in U.S. law as “monoalkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived from plant or animal matter.” However, it is possible to make renewable diesel from other organic materials, through thermal conversion processes, or even directly from algae. These technologies enable the use of abundant, low-value feedstocks, including municipal waste and even smokestack emissions.

The Fischer-Tropsch process can produce a high-quality diesel fuel from biomass, as well as from fossil fuels. For the past 50 years, Fischer-Tropsch fuels have powered some of South Africa’s vehicles; the company Sasol produces more than 150,000 barrels a day from domestic low-grade coal. The fuel is said to be competitive with oil that costs more than $40 a barrel. The first commercial-scale Fischer-Tropsch plant using biomass, with a capacity just over 4,000 barrels per day (60 million gallons per year), is planned to begin operation in Germany after 2008.

Thermal conversion is a general term encompassing various forms of pyrolysis, such as that used to make charcoal out of wood. Pyrolysis uses heat and pressure to break apart the molecular structure of organic solids – any kind of organic solids. One variant, known as “thermal depolymerization,” is being used to convert turkey offal into bio-based crude oil at ConAgra’s Butterball turkey plant in Carthage, Mo., by a company called Changing World Technologies. Production costs are reported at $80 a barrel but would be lower if the company received a “tipping fee” for disposing of a waste product.

Another promising technology captures smokestack emissions of carbon dioxide for use in an “algae farm,” where the gas stimulates the rapid growth of algae that can be converted into biodiesel and ethanol. GreenFuel Technologies first tested the process on a 20-megawatt cogeneration facility at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004 and then commissioned a second, larger unit in 2005 at a 1,060-megawatt power plant in the southwest United States. According to the company, the results suggest that every acre of the algae farm would yield 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of biodiesel annually and a comparable amount of ethanol.