What is a Biofuel?
Biofuel is any kind of fuel that is directly derived from plant or animal matter, also known as biomass, and produces bioenergy. ‘Bio’ is used to depict the organic nature of this fuel source because it is not produced by a geological process like that of fossil fuels (petroleum and coal).
Owing to this, it is a renewable source of energy preferred for how easy it is to extract and its renewability. Biofuels originate from plants as they make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. Some of the best plants used in biofuel extraction include corn, soy, sunflower, sorghum, and wheat. Animals such as herbivores like the domesticated cattle are primary consumers and, therefore, biofuel is got from their waste – mostly plant material.
Biofuels have various benefits and can also be obtained indirectly from commercial, agricultural, industrial, and domestic waste. The fuel shares some similarities with fossil fuels in that it can exist in three states; solid, liquid and gas. This article seeks to discover the various types of biofuels and their respective benefits.
Various Types of Biofuel
This is the most basic form of fuel that is derived from organic matter. Trees as well as plants provide biomass burned for fuel in the forms of firewood, sawdust, chips, charcoal, and pellets. Hence, wood is one of the most common forms of fuel used in all corners of the globe. People often gather these different forms of wood to warm their houses, cook food, and to power small appliances at the house hold level.
This is the gaseous form of biofuels. It burns just like natural gas and for this reason, is slowly but steadily taking its place. Biogas is mainly composed of methane gas though produced from the process of anaerobic breakdown of biomass. Most agricultural firms use biogas and the fuel is currently being packaged in gas cylinders for household use.
The fuel is extracted from a mixture of both animals and plants because each contributes a specific element. For instance, plants have significant carbon and hydrogen in them whereas animals have nitrogen in them. These elements are essential for coming up with biogas.
This biofuel is liquid in nature. It mostly focuses on plants with high energy content in order to attain pure biodiesel. It is made through combination of fats and oils from animals and plants respectively. Alcohol is another ingredient that leads to the manufacture of biodiesel. In addition, grease from plants and animals are also used as a supplement.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of these oils. Several chemical processes are needed such as trans-esterification, which involves esters and alcohols such as methanol and ethanol in the production of biodiesel.
This biofuel is also liquid in nature and is produced from biomass of both plants and animals but mostly plants. As the name suggests, it is an alcohol. It is made through the process of fermentation of high carbon content biomass, mainly sugars and cellulose. Sugarcane is among the plants preferred.
Due to its clean nature, it is incorporated with other fuels to reduce carbon emission. It can also be used just as it is as a fuel for vehicles. In Brazil, a large-scale sugarcane producing country, its use has been successful with vehicles being powered by 100% ethanol.
Methanol is also an alcohol like ethanol used as a clean fuel to power vehicle engines, especially racing cars in various parts of the world. Methanol is remarkably similar to methane in chemical composition, the only difference is that methane is gaseous while methanol is liquid. Biomass is converted to methanol through gasification which is done at extremely high temperatures and in the presence of a catalyst.
This is another alcohol that serves as a biofuel. Formed through the process of fermentation, butanol is liquid that has a higher energy per unit content than ethanol and methanol. Further, its chemical structure and efficiency is similar to gasoline but the problem is that it is very difficult to produce.
It is derived from plants especially those that have grains with high energy content such as wheat and sorghum. Due to its high energy content and longer hydrogen chain, it can be injected directly into gasoline engines with no modification.
Various Benefits of Biofuels
1. They are renewable sources of energy
There is a high demand for energy globally. Nevertheless, most of the sources of power are non-renewable, contribute to the greenhouse effect, or may result in serious environmental disasters as it is the case with nuclear energy. Biofuels, on the other hand, are extracted from plants and animal waste, which are clean fuel sources and environmentally sustainable.
Any country can initiate the production of biofuels without interfering with other countries’ energy source unlike fossil fuels whose deposits are not found in all countries. Countries with fossil fuel deposits have always taken advantage of their resource endowment by influencing or defining the world’s fuel prices and petroleum based products. If a country can generate its own biofuel, it can set its own pricing on products with ease without so much global or regional restriction.
3. Ensure sustainable economy
Biofuels renewable nature has led to states all around the globe embracing it and encouraging reduction in use of fossil fuels. Instead of importing fossil fuels from countries in the Middle East at a high cost, governments can reduce this dependency and instead support biofuel plants which are cheaper in the long run.
Biofuels created locally would reduce dependence and thus improve energy security and economic stability. Fewer imports mean more exports and thus, better self-dependency.
4. Low costs
Most biofuels are easy to produce and are cheaper than fossil fuels. Their use can, therefore, make life easy for the common citizens and aid in uplifting people’s living standards by reducing the soaring living costs around the world due to dependency on fossil fuels.
5. Cleanest fuel
Fossil fuels produce a lot of carbon which results in significant levels of air pollution. This carbon also combines with other greenhouse gases such as methane and end up bringing adverse climatic conditions. Biofuels, on the contrary, do not release this amount of carbon to the atmosphere because they are clean fuels.
6. Production of less smoke
Automobiles and industries that use fossil fuels such as petroleum and diesel usually produce lots of smoke into the atmosphere. Because biodiesels have oxygen atom in their chemical composition, it burns better and produces less carbon deposits. As a result, biodiesels emit less smoke and are more environmental friendly.
7. They help to reduce monopoly
Fossil fuels are still more preferred to biofuels probably due their widespread use. Over the years, this has created a monopoly that leads to inflation of prices and the ever rising costs of living. Since biofuels are equal substitutes to fossil fuels, they can be used to help reduce the monopoly caused by fossil fuels.
Biogas, for instance, can be used in the same way as natural gas. Consequently, when the rices for natural gas go up, people have the option of switching to biogas. And when fossil diesel prices are hiked, motorists can opt for ethanol or butanol, which are better alternatives.
8. Lower toxicity in the atmosphere
Both types of fuels, fossil fuels and biofuels, produce carbon as an end product of combustion. Yet, the carbon does not have the same effect. Fossil fuels produce toxic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, particularly in the presence of water vapor and methane gas. The carbon released by biofuels, on the other hand, is naturally occurring and is used by the plants for photosynthesis – acting as a source of the energy for plants.
9. They are a source of employment for locals
Most of the bio plants are set up locally and human capital, for example, construction engineers, farmers, project managers, fuel distributors, and logisticians are needed in the process. This aids in creating new job opportunities for the locals.
10. They do not produce sulfur
Some of the fossil fuels like coal release sulfur when combustion takes place and contribute to the formation of acid rain with high sulfur concentration. Contrariwise, biofuels have no sulfur content.
11. Promotion of agriculture
An increase in the demand for biofuel production would translate to more farming of the suitable crops. Crops that have a high carbon and cellulose content can be planted on large scale and after harvesting of the edibles, the rest of the plant parts such as fodder can be used in the production of biofuels.