Bio-based Fuels and Additives for ICE Vehicles

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

  • Bio-Based Fuels: These fuels are produced from organic matter, such as plants, algae, or waste biomass, offering a renewable alternative to gasoline and diesel derived from petroleum.
    • Ethanol: A biofuel typically made from corn or sugarcane, often blended with gasoline to create fuel blends like E10 (10% ethanol) or E85 (85% ethanol).
    • Biodiesel: A biofuel made from vegetable oils or animal fats, often blended with diesel fuel or used in dedicated biodiesel engines.
  • Bio-Based Additives: These additives are derived from renewable sources and are added to conventional fuels to improve their properties, such as enhancing combustion efficiency, reducing emissions, or boosting octane rating.

Impact on climate action

Bio-Based Fuels and Additives for Low-Carbon ICE Vehicles significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by utilizing renewable sources like plant oils and agricultural waste. They mitigate climate change by cutting down on fossil fuel consumption and offering a more sustainable alternative, fostering a smoother transition towards greener transportation.


  • Sustainable Feedstocks: Bio-based fuels and additives are produced from a variety of sustainable feedstocks, including non-food crops, agricultural residues, used cooking oil, and algae. The selection of feedstocks depends on factors like regional availability, cost, and environmental impact.
  • Conversion Technologies: Various technologies are used to convert biomass into biofuels:
    • Fermentation: Sugars or starches from feedstocks are fermented to produce ethanol.
    • Transesterification: Oils or fats are reacted with alcohol to produce biodiesel.
    • Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL): This process uses high pressure and temperature to convert biomass into biocrude, which can then be refined into biofuels.
  • Engine Compatibility: Bio-based fuels and additives are designed to be compatible with existing ICE vehicles, either as blends with conventional fuels or in some cases as dedicated fuels.

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Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Biofuel Production: Research focuses on developing more efficient and sustainable biofuel production processes, exploring new feedstocks, such as algae and cellulosic biomass, and optimizing conversion technologies to reduce costs and environmental impact.
  • Next-Generation Biodiesel: Developing biodiesel from advanced feedstocks, such as waste oils and algae, can reduce competition with food production and improve the overall sustainability of this biofuel.
  • Drop-in Biofuels: Creating bio-based fuels that are chemically identical to conventional gasoline or diesel, enabling seamless integration with existing infrastructure and vehicles.
  • High-Performance Bio-Based Additives: Developing bio-based additives that enhance fuel efficiency, reduce emissions, and improve engine performance beyond the capabilities of traditional petroleum-based additives.
  • Waste-to-Fuel Technologies: Exploring innovative ways to convert various waste streams, such as municipal solid waste, agricultural residues, and plastics, into biofuels or bio-based fuel additives, promoting a circular economy approach.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Sustainable Feedstock Sourcing
  • Fermentation Technology Advancements
  • Transesterification Process Optimization
  • Hydrothermal Liquefaction Innovations
  • Engine Compatibility Enhancement
  • Advanced Biofuel Production Methods
  • Algae-Based Biofuel Development
  • Cellulosic Biomass Conversion Research
  • Next-Generation Biodiesel Engineering
  • Waste Oil Utilization Techniques
  • Drop-in Biofuel Synthesis
  • Chemically Identical Biofuel Creation
  • Bio-Based Additives for Fuel Efficiency
  • Performance-Boosting Additive Design
  • Bio-Based Fuel Additive Applications

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • TerraVia:
    • Technology Focus: TerraVia specializes in producing bio-based oils and ingredients using microalgae. Their technology involves cultivating and processing algae to extract oils rich in valuable compounds such as omega-3 fatty acids and biofuels.
    • Uniqueness: TerraVia stands out for its innovative use of microalgae to produce sustainable oils and ingredients for various applications, including biofuels, food, and personal care products.
    • End-User Segments: Their products cater to industries such as renewable energy, food and beverages, cosmetics, and animal nutrition, offering bio-based alternatives to traditional fossil fuels and ingredients.
  • Neste:
    • Technology Focus: Neste is a leading producer of renewable diesel and other bio-based fuels. Their technology involves refining renewable raw materials such as vegetable oils and waste fats into high-quality renewable fuels.
    • Uniqueness: Neste is known for its advanced refining processes that enable the production of drop-in renewable fuels that can be used directly in existing diesel engines without modification, offering a seamless transition to renewable energy.
    • End-User Segments: Their products target various industries, including transportation, aviation, maritime, and heavy-duty machinery, providing sustainable fuel solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Renewable Energy Group (REG):
    • Technology Focus: REG is a leading producer of biodiesel and renewable diesel. Their technology involves converting a diverse range of feedstocks such as vegetable oils, animal fats, and used cooking oil into high-quality renewable fuels.
    • Uniqueness: REG is known for its extensive network of biorefineries across North America and Europe, allowing them to efficiently produce and distribute renewable fuels on a large scale.
    • End-User Segments: Their products cater to industries such as transportation, agriculture, construction, and utilities, offering cost-effective and environmentally friendly alternatives to petroleum-based fuels.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at UC Berkeley are pioneering the development of bio-based fuels and additives tailored for low-carbon ICE vehicles. They are exploring advanced biofuel production techniques such as enzymatic conversion and thermochemical processes to maximize energy efficiency and minimize emissions.
    • Uniqueness of Research: UC Berkeley’s approach integrates sustainability metrics into the design and optimization of bio-based fuel production pathways. They are investigating novel feedstocks, such as algae and waste biomass, to produce biofuels with reduced land use and water consumption compared to conventional biofuel sources.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based fuels and additives developed at UC Berkeley have applications in existing ICE vehicles, including cars, trucks, and buses. By replacing fossil fuels with renewable alternatives, these biofuels can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change while maintaining compatibility with existing vehicle infrastructure.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Technology Enhancements: MIT researchers are pushing the boundaries of bio-based fuel technology by developing advanced catalysts and process optimization techniques for biofuel production. They are leveraging insights from materials science, chemistry, and engineering to enhance the efficiency and scalability of biofuel production processes.
    • Uniqueness of Research: MIT’s research focuses on the development of bio-based fuels with enhanced combustion properties and reduced emissions compared to conventional fuels. They are exploring innovative approaches such as biofuel blending and fuel additives to improve engine performance and reduce environmental impact.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based fuels and additives developed at MIT can be used in a wide range of ICE vehicles, including cars, ships, and airplanes. By enabling the use of renewable fuels, MIT’s research contributes to the decarbonization of the transportation sector and helps address climate change challenges.
  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Technology Enhancements: Researchers at Wageningen University & Research are at the forefront of bio-based fuel innovation, focusing on sustainable production methods and feedstock optimization. They are exploring bio-refinery concepts that integrate multiple biomass sources to produce a range of biofuels and bioproducts.
    • Uniqueness of Research: Wageningen’s approach emphasizes the use of agricultural residues and dedicated energy crops for biofuel production, minimizing competition with food production and biodiversity conservation. They are developing holistic biofuel production systems that maximize resource efficiency and minimize environmental impact.
    • End-use Applications: The bio-based fuels and additives developed at Wageningen have applications in both transportation and industrial sectors. From bioethanol for gasoline blending to biodiesel for diesel engines, these renewable fuels offer a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels and contribute to sustainable development goals.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Bio-based fuels and additives are already commercially available and widely implemented in the automotive industry. Ethanol and biodiesel blends are common in many countries, and bio-based additives are routinely used to improve fuel performance and reduce emissions. The adoption of advanced biofuels and next-generation bio-based additives is growing, driven by government mandates, environmental regulations, and consumer demand for more sustainable transportation options.