Unlike other renewable energy sources, biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels, called “biofuels,” to help meet transportation fuel needs. The two most common types of biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel.
Ethanol is an alcohol, the same as in beer and wine (although ethanol used as a fuel is modified to make it undrinkable). It is made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates through a process similar to beer brewing. Today, ethanol is made from starches and sugars, but NREL scientists are developing technology to allow it to be made from cellulose and hemicellulose, the fibrous material that makes up the bulk of most plant matter. Ethanol is mostly used as blending agent with gasoline to increase octane and cut down carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions.
Biodiesel is made by combining alcohol (usually methanol) with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. It can be used as an additive (typically 20%) to reduce vehicle emissions or in its pure form as a renewable alternative fuel for diesel engines.
You can learn more about NREL’s biomass research and biodiesel research.
Also see the U.S. Department of Energy’s Biomass Program and Alternative Fuels Data Center.

The Nonpetroleum Based Fuels (NPBF) activity works to overcome technical barriers to expand markets for new liquid fuels, such as biodiesel and Fischer-Tropsch diesel, and gaseous fuels, including natural gas and hydrogen. Longer-term research and development is being performed on fuels that enable highly efficient and clean engines to employ advanced combustion concepts.

Nonpetroleum based fuels increase U.S. energy security by displacing petroleum and enabling high efficiency and low emission engines. NPBF work is specifically directed at meeting DOE’s FreedomCAR Program and the 21st Century Truck Partnership goals of increasing vehicle efficiency and displacing petroleum.
NREL’s NPBF work is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. This research supports several NREL programs and is led by the Center for Transportation Technologies and Systems (CTTS). The NPBF project is part of CTTS’ Fuels Performance Group. Other projects within this group include Advanced Petroleum Based FuelsNew Fuels Technology Impacts, and theRenewable Fuels and Lubricants (ReFUEL) Laboratory.

All about ethanol
Ethanol is a high octane, clean burning, American-made renewable fuel. Its production and use offer a myriad of benefits to the United States and its citizens.
The production of ethanol is an economic engine for the United States, adding value to U.S. agricultural products and bringing billions of dollars to the nation’s economy each year. The use of ethanol reduces harmful auto emissions, offers consumers a cost-effective choice at the pump, and decreases the amount of expensive crude oil needed to satisfy the nation’s thirst for transportation fuel.
Ethanol is produced at more than 175 facilities across the nation and blended in to unleaded gasoline in varying percentages. Ethanol is most commonly retailed as E10, the blend of 10 percent ethanol (90% gasoline) for use in all automobiles. Increasingly, ethanol is also available as E85, the 85 percent ethanol blend for use in Flexible Fuel Vehicles. Study is being done on allowing the use of blends beyond 10 percent in standard automobiles (read more here).
This All About Ethanol section contains a wealth of information about the production and use of ethanol. Visit these subsections to learn more:
Ethanol 101 – ethanol basics, benefits Ethanol Facilities – how and where ethanol is made Ethanol & Your Vehicle – the types and use of ethanol-blended fuel Ethanol Research – research studies on various ethanol topics Ethanol Co-Products – the co-products of the ethanol production process Alternative Uses – ethanol for industrial, beverage, aviation purposes.