Fuel Gas Conditioning, Power Generation
What Is Biofuel? – Types, Sources, Uses, and Is It Renewable?
January 29, 2021 Welcome
As the world attempts to slow the negative effects of climate change, there has been a conscious shift towards renewable sources of energy for powering our daily lives. With alternative energy sources like biofuel being explored, it is crucial we fully understand how this game-changing fuel type is sourced and utilized.
What Is Biofuel?
Biofuel is the term used to describe the energy derived from the breakdown of organic materials (biomass) from animal and plant sources. Virtually any biological material like grass, wood, crops, trees, animal, and agricultural waste can be used to constitute biofuel which offers an alternative to fossil fuels.
Sources of Biofuel
Biofuel is generated by processing materials from various plant and animal sources. The common organic materials used to create biofuel include:
- Animal fat
- Wood chippings
- Canola oil
- Corn oil
- Palm oil
- Rapeseed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Soya bean oil
These materials are subjected to different transformational processes to yield useful biofuel fractions.
Is Biofuel Renewable or Non-renewable?
Biofuels derived from the breakdown and processing of animal and plant materials constitute a renewable source of energy.
Hydrocarbon fuels derived from biomass sources are termed renewable biofuels or renewable diesel and possess a lot of similarities to conventional diesel originating from refining petroleum. Just like with conventional diesel, renewable biofuels have found use as a transportation fuel. With rising popularity, more energy players are modifying their facilities to harness this fuel source.
Types of Biofuel
There are two major fractions of biofuels derived from the processing of organic materials from plants and animals namely:
The primary difference between both biofuels is the process by which they are synthesized. While biodiesel is created from the trans-esterification of animal fats of vegetable oils, ethanol is majorly synthesized by subjecting plant-based substrates to special fermentation procedures.
This renewable biofuel is derived entirely from plant-based organic materials including plant starches and sugars. Fermentation of these materials is conducted under special environmental conditions that favor the growth and multiplication of microorganisms that break down the plant sugars to form ethanol.
While most of the ethanol synthesized by fermentation is from plant starches/sugars, researchers are currently studying techniques that allow them to use non-edible plant components like cellulose and hemicellulose to produce ethanol.
This biofuel is a cleaner-burning alternative to energy derived from fossil fuels. Biodiesel is created by combining animal fats and vegetable oils with alcohol in a trans-esterification process. This process involves the breakdown of glycerin to free up fatty acids that subsequently combine with alcohol molecules to form biodiesel. Among the properties that make it particularly useful as an alternative fuel are the facts that it is non-toxic and biodegradable.
What Is Biofuel Used For?
Biofuels are currently being substituted for conventional fossil fuels in heating and transportation activities. Biofuels can also be blended into gasoline to improve the octane rating and reduce harmful emissions.
Biofuel Blending for Transportation Industry
The EPA currently implements the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program which mandates that all energy manufacturers blend a certain proportion of renewable fuel (like biofuels) into their conventional fuel production processes. The programs uses renewable identification numbers to track and monitor progress throughout the industry.
Consequently, various transport fuels exist with differing proportions of ethanol to gasoline or petroleum-based diesel. Common examples of biofuel blends are E10 which contains 10% ethanol with 90% gasoline, and B20 composed of 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel.
More Biofuel FAQs
The remaining sections of this article respond to questions frequently asked by persons seeking to improve their knowledge of biofuels including their impacts on the environment and current rates of utilization worldwide.
How Does Biofuel Help the Environment?
Blending biofuels with conventional fuels has been proven to significantly reduce the release of carbon monoxide and other emissions that harm the environment. Also, due to their biodegradability and non-toxicity, biofuels do not pose any additional harm to the environment following accidental spillage as they are eliminated by normal biological processes.
Is Biofuel Carbon Neutral?
Carbon-neutral is the term used to describe a fuel that does not cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Biofuels belong to this class because the emissions produced during their combustion are offset by gases absorbed while growing the organic material eventually used as a substrate for their synthesis.
Are Biofuels “Clean Energy?”
Although it has been established that biofuels do produce some levels of greenhouse emissions during their combustion, it is also recognized that the released levels are significantly lower than those obtained from burning fossil fuels. When combined with their relative carbon-neutrality, biodegradability, and non-toxicity, biofuels can be regarded as a clean energy source.
How Much Biofuel Does the World Use?
Despite its obvious benefits, most of the biofuel generated yearly is synthesized and consumed by developed countries. Biofuel growth and use in the US and Europe has been driven by policies favoring the use of biofuel.
By 2019, worldwide biofuel production had surpassed 1800 barrels – a significant rise from earlier years. With increasing recognition of its benefits, experts predict a continued rise in global demand for biofuels with its market share expected to exceed 150 million U.S dollars by 2024.
For those asking, “Could renewable energy power the world?” there is a growing trend toward this reality, but it still appears to be many years away.
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