Biofuels – A Driving Force
Biofuels - A Driving Force
In our continuing series of BioEnergy, we are looking into the practical application of BioFuels. Unlike other renewable energy sources, BioFuels can be converted directly into liquid fuels, called “biofuels,” from BioMass.
As the name suggests, it is fuel – generally considered to be in a liquid or gas form – used primarily in transportation. As we will see in this article, there is more than just ethanol, and there are a number of great benefits in the use of BioFuels.
So what exactly are BioFuels and why should we care? Glad you asked.
What is BioFuel
Types of BioFuel
- Bioethanol is an alcohol made by fermentation, mostly from carbohydrates produced in sugar or starch crops such as corn, sugarcane, or sweet sorghum. Although ethanol can be used directly as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, it is usually used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions.
- Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification. Like ethanol, it can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles.
- Biogas – not gas for a vehicle – but is more similar to natural gas. The main component of biogas is methane. It is suitable as an alternative to the use of natural gas.
- Bio-ethers are derived from sugars like wheat and beets, and can even be made from glycerol waste produced from the production of biodiesel. It is primarily used as a fuel additive to replace lead as a catalyst in fuel to improve the performance of the engine.
- Biohydrogen is a type of gaseous biofuel. It is produced with a mixture of other gases including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, collectively called syngas or more commonly synthesis gas. It is produced by the process of pyrolysis, gasification or biological fermentation.
- Energy Crops are the primary category of the type of solid biofuels. Solid biofuels include organic materials used for burning/combustion. This includes organic biomass like wood and plants. The best example of an energy crop is obviously wood. This solid biofuel is burned to produce energy and is classed as a second generation biofuel type.
- Algae based biofuels are the highest source of energy in the class of biofuels. Another benefit is that it does not require land to produce the biomass required for the biofuel. It can actually be converted into different fuels like diesel.
“Biofuels allows transportation vehicles to burn a much cleaner energy.”
Generations of BioFuel
Since BioFuels are derived from a number of different sources, they are categorized in generations of fuels based on their biomass source.
First-generation biofuels are fuels made from food crops grown on land. The crop’s sugar, starch, or oil content is converted into biodiesel or ethanol, using transesterification, or yeast fermentation.
Second-generation biofuels are fuels made from woody biomass, or agricultural residues/waste. The feedstock used to make the fuels come from byproducts of a main crop, or they are grown specifically on marginal land. Second-generation feedstocks include straw, bagasse, perennial grasses, jatropha, waste vegetable oil, municipal solid waste and so forth.
Algae can be produced in ponds or tanks on land, and out at sea. Algal fuels have high yields, can be grown with minimal impact on freshwater resources, can be produced using saline water and wastewater, have a high ignition point, and are biodegradable and relatively harmless to the environment if spilled. Unfortunately, the production currently requires large amounts of energy and fertilizer, and is not cost efficient.
This class of biofuels includes electrofuels and solar fuels. Electrofuels are made by storing electrical energy in the chemical bonds of liquids and gases. This is still in its infancy.
How Are BioFuels Made
Biofuels are created through biochemical processes that usually combine plant, grasses, wood, and agricultural debris. The usual methods for conversion are deconstruction (high and low temperature variations) to break down the biomass into its chemical ingredients, and then upgraded to final products.
- High-temperature deconstruction includes pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is the thermal/chemical decomposition of inputs without oxygen to reach an outcome of a bio-oil with hydrocarbons. There are more oxygenated composites per unit than in crude petroleum oils.
- Low-temperature deconstruction typically makes use of biological catalysts called enzymes or chemicals to breakdown feedstocks into intermediates. First, biomass undergoes a pretreatment step that opens up the physical structure of plant and algae cell walls, making sugar polymers like cellulose and hemicellulose more accessible. These polymers are then broken down enzymatically or chemically into simple sugar building blocks during a process known as hydrolysis.
Following deconstruction, intermediates such as crude bio-oils, syngas, sugars, and other chemical building blocks must be upgraded to produce a finished product. This step can involve either biological or chemical processing.
Microorganisms, such as bacteria, yeast, and cyanobacteria, can ferment sugar or gaseous intermediates into fuel blendstocks and chemicals. Alternatively, sugars and other intermediate streams, such as bio-oil and syngas, may be processed using a catalyst to remove any unwanted or reactive compounds in order to improve storage and handling properties.
The finished products from upgrading may be fuels or bioproducts ready to sell into the commercial market or stabilized intermediates suitable for finishing in a petroleum refinery or chemical manufacturing plant.
The Driving Force - Benefits of BioFuels
In conclusion, biofuels have a number of positive advantages. Not only are they renewable, but they also are a great alternative fuel source with minimal impact on the environment. Here are some things to consider and benefits around biofuels:
- They are safe for transportation because they are derived from biomass
- They are much less toxic to the environment.
- Fewer by-products than conventional hydrocarbon-based fuels after combustion.
- Limited to no greenhouse gases produced in either production or consumption.
- It has low-cost sources.
- The production process can turn used oils, fats, and greases into a working fuel product.
- They are renewable; they are derived from plants and other presently growing biological material, so it is possible to produce new ones regularly.
- Biodiesel is ready to use in any mixture, and needs no engine modifications to use in diesel-powered vehicles.
- They can be made locally, which can lead to national energy safety for smaller countries that are dependent on fuel imports.
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Renewables & Surface Team Lead