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The rise and fall of innovation in biofuels

A look at the global landscape of biofuel patenting shows that, after surging between 2004 and 2008, the invention of biofuel technologies slowed considerably, and in many countries went into decline. Global trends point to an uncertain future, in particular, for advanced biofuels.

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Figure 1: World fuel price and output.
Figure 2: Biofuel inventions worldwide as measured by patent families, from 1970 through 2013, by earliest priority filing date among the publication records that make up each invention's patent family.
Figure 3: Biofuel inventions by patent office and year in which the invention's patent family was first filed.
Figure 4: Percentage share of biofuel inventions, by residence of listed inventors on biofuel patent families, from 1970 to 2013.
Figure 5: The types of applicants or assignees on filings in the patent families of all biofuel inventions made from 1970 to 2012.
Figure 6: The six main pathways of biofuel production, based on major sources of biological feedstock, conversion processes, and resulting biofuel molecules.
Figure 7: Inventions in the six major technical pathways to produce biofuels, as defined in Figure 6.


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We gratefully acknowledge support that contributed to this study from the National Institutes of Health (5 R01 HG004041-03) (G.D.G.), Energy Bioscience Institute (EBI-OO7J59) (G.D.G.), and the NSF IGERT program in Biofuels at CSU (S.C.A.). Thanks to P. Flynn and D. Philips for excellent research assistance, to T. Bubela and M. Bieber for assistance with data and methods, and to M. Lundqvist, C. Peebles, K. Reardon, P. Pardey, B. Wright, D. Zilberman, and A. Bennett for insights and support at various stages of the project.

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Correspondence to Gregory D Graff.

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Albers, S., Berklund, A. & Graff, G. The rise and fall of innovation in biofuels. Nat Biotechnol 34, 814–821 (2016).

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