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Biofuels: Overview

by | Mar 21, 2022 | Biofuels, Green Energy

Biofuel, as the name suggests, is derived from two words, i.e., Bio that represents biomass, and fuel, which means the material that can be used to produce energy. This article will discuss Biofuel in detail, including the Environmental Sustainability of Biofuels.

Generation of Biofuels

Three generations of biofuels have resulted from biofuel research and development. Each generation has its feedstock, with its own set of potential advantages and disadvantages. Biofuels made from an established row crop, such as corn ethanol or soy biodiesel, are known as first-generation biofuels. Cellulosic biomass, such as perennial grasses, is used to make second-generation biofuels. Algae will be used to produce third-generation biofuels.

  • First-generation Biofuel – Vegetable oil, sucrose, or starch make first-generation biofuels. Simple metabolic procedures are required to convert vegetable oil to biodiesel or starch and sucrose to ethanol. The food business has already established these methods, reducing the need for additional research and development before creating transportation fuels. However, such crops demand a lot of agricultural input (fertilizer), whereas perennial grasses require less.
  • Second-generation Biofuel – Cellulosic biomass sources such as crop wastes, perennial grasses, and trees are likely to be used to make second-generation biofuels. They may be produced on marginal acreage when row crops are unprofitable. This minimizes rivalry with rich ground that may be better used to grow food crops by focusing on regions that are very erodible or have weak soil quality.
  • Third-generation Biofuel – Algae biomass or oil is gathered to make third-generation biofuels. Oil-producing algae (also known as Oilgae) grows fast and does not require pre-treatment. Controlling the environment for optimal development, on the other hand, is complex and costly. Keeping good environmental control typically necessitates the purchase of costly facilities and equipment.

Development of Biological Conversion Technologies

Biomass may be turned into a variety of products that can be used to generate energy and chemicals. Several elements determine the selection of a biomass conversion technique. These criteria include biomass feedstock quality and quantity, availability, end-product selection, process economics, and environmental concerns.

Thermochemical Methods – Combustion, gasification, and pyrolysis/liquefaction are the most common thermochemical biomass conversion processes. The combustion process, which is utilized for heat and power generation, is the most widely employed thermochemical conversion of biomass in industry. Most biomass thermochemical transitions were done with or without catalysts, albeit catalyst usage has different impacts on the end-products.

Biochemical Methods – Biochemical biomass conversion methods are those that use biological pre-treatments to convert biomass. These pre-treatments were designed to convert biomass into a wide range of products and intermediates using a variety of microbes and enzymes. The technique may be used to make biogas, ethanol, hydrogen, butanol, acetone, and various organic acids, among other things. However, the goal of this technique was to create goods that might be used to replace petroleum-based products and those made from cereals. Compared to other conversion methods, biomass biochemical conversion techniques are clean, pure, and efficient.

Biofuels biological conversion technologies

                                                                            Biofuels biological conversion technologies

Energy Security and Supply

  • Energy security refers to a country’s ability to sustain its energy needs with a sufficient, cheap, and reliable energy supply. The finite and polluting nature of fossil fuels has prompted a reassessment of energy security in terms of relying on renewable energy sources. Biofuel is an example of a sustainable and environmentally friendly energy source. Biofuel is a type of bioenergy that may be made from biomass. Biomass is a non-fossilized, biodegradable organic substance that is used as a raw source for biofuel manufacturing.
  • In all three nations, increased car ownership (related to economic development) adds to rising oil import reliance. In 2019, China’s gasoline car demand grew by one-fifth (32 billion L) and India’s by more than 30 percent (12 billion L). By 2024, Indonesia’s diesel vehicle fuel demand will have increased by 10% (about 2 billion L).
  • The use of mandate policies that require the replacement of a portion of gasoline or diesel usage with biofuels can improve supply security. Such policies have been developed (and lately reinforced) in all three nations (percentages are by volume):
  • China: Ethanol will meet 10% of the country’s fuel consumption.
  • India: a 5% ethanol requirement across the board, with a 10% mandate in significant ethanol-producing states; a 20% objective for 2030.
  • Indonesia: 20% biodiesel mix, with vehicle testing for 30% biodiesel on road.

Environmental Sustainability of Biofuels

Biofuels are being marketed as a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels because they can assist in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the climate change effect associated with transportation. However, there are fears that its widespread use would have unexpected environmental implications. Many life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have studied climate change and other biofuels’ environmental implications.

First-generation biofuels can have lower GHG emissions than fossil fuels on average. The GHG reductions for most feedstocks are insufficient to fulfill the Renewable energy directive ( RED’s ) requirements.

Second-generation biofuels have more potential to reduce GHG emissions than first-generation biofuels, assuming there is no land-use change. Second-generation biofuels, on the other hand, will take years to develop and will likely rely on the continuous backing of first-generation biofuels to provide the sector the confidence to invest.

It is also evident that, at this stage of development, algae-based third-generation biofuels are unlikely to contribute to the transportation sector since their GHG emissions are larger than those of fossil fuels. Furthermore, because they are untested and costly to manufacture, the algal feedstock will remain limited to high-value applications such as cosmetics and nutritional supplements.

In addition to environmental implications, there are plenty of additional sustainability concerns to consider when evaluating biofuels’ long-term viability. Costs of production and competition with fossil fuels; food, energy, and water security; job creation; rural development, and human health consequences are only a few of them to prevent moving the responsibilities from one segment of the life cycle or supply chain to another, the sustainability characteristics of biofuels must be examined on a life cycle basis throughout whole supply chains.

Economic Sustainability of Biofuels

Biofuels have the potential to provide a variety of advantages over fossil fuels. Biofuels are made from renewable feedstocks, as opposed to fossil fuels, that are finite resources. As a result, their manufacturing and usage might theoretically continue perpetually.

Certain types of biofuels might produce fewer lifetime GHG emissions than gasoline over a 30-year time horizon, even though the manufacturing of biofuels resulted in GHG emissions at numerous stages of the process. Biofuels can also reduce lifecycle GHG emissions when compared to conventional fuels, according to academic research utilizing various economic models.

Because feedstocks may be grown on marginal land, second and third-generation biofuels offer a substantial potential to cut GHG emissions when compared to traditional fuels. Furthermore, no new agricultural output is necessary in the case of waste biomass, and indirect market-mediated GHG emissions might be limited if the wastes have no other profitable applications.

Biofuels may be generated domestically, reducing the need for imported fossil fuels. We may become less exposed to the adverse effects of supply interruptions if biofuel development and use decrease our demand for imported fossil fuels. Reducing our demand for petroleum might lower its price, benefiting consumers while also potentially increasing petroleum use elsewhere.



  • Sigma Earth

    The author has done a master's in Environmental science and is currently working as chief Environmental Advisor with New Delhi State Government.


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