Ethanol and Biodiesel

What are ethanol and biodiesel?

In the U.S., most ethanol is made from terrestrial food crops like corn and soy beans. These biofuels are considered first generation bio-fuels and are impractical for most of Alaska, due to their long growth cycle and energy-intensive production, to land usage, and to Alaska’s climate and environmental conditions. There is a new push across the United States for second generation biofuels, which are more environmentally friendly and made from feedstock that is otherwise wasted or has little value. Options that have been considered for Alaska include cellulosic ethanol and algae biodiesel.

The raw materials needed to produce cellulosic ethanol are plentiful in most parts of Alaska. Cellulose is present in every plant, in the form of straw, grass, and wood. It could be harvested from local forests, or cellulose-producing crops could be planted on land considered marginal for agriculture, but biomass is not an energy dense feedstock for making liquid fuels, so transportation costs would be significant. In the Lower 48, the Department of Energy announced funding for six pilot cellulosic ethanol plants in 2007. These plants will require considerable financial support through grants and subsidies to operate, but the hope is that the technology will advance to where the process becomes economic and cost-competitive with other alternatives.


How do ethanol and biodiesel work?

Over the last few years, algae biodiesel has received significant attention worldwide. This is due to algae’s fast growth rate and high oil content in some species. Much research is going into this potential feedstock for biodiesel; however, with Alaska’s limited amount of sunshine and cold temperatures the state has not been the focus of any of this activity. Current costs of producing algae oil still hover between $10 and $1000 per gallon, even in warmer climates. Other concerns include the large amounts of water used in algae production, the need for nutrients, and the high capital costs of production facilities.

Ethanol and biodiesel in Alaska

Alaska’s current options for biodiesel feedstock are fish oil, and waste vegetable oil.


Technology Snapshot: Ethanol and Biodiesel
Installed Capacity (Worldwide) 22.95 billion U.S. liquid gallons
Installed Capacity (Alaska) Unknown
Resource Distribution Ethanol fueling stations are largely located along the "Corn Belt" (mid-west U.S.). Alaska currently has no ethanol mixture (E85) fueling stations.
Number of communities impacted 0
Technology Readiness Flex-fuel cars are available in Alaska, but the facilities and infrastructure to provide fuel to them are no presently available.
Environmental Impact E85 availability would lessen the environmental impact of car emissions in Alaska, but the energy consumed transporting biofuels to Alaska from their point of origin may offset any benefits.
Case Studies

Links, Resources, and Documents

  • Arctic Vegwerks: A private blog promoting the use of waste fish oil, vegetable oil, and sustainably grown crop waste in Alaska.
  • Alaska Biodiesel: Information about installing an Alaskan biodiesel system for personal use.

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