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What Does Biofuel Mean?

Biofuel are energy sources or fuels derived from organic matter called biomass. Ethanol and biodiesel are the most common types of biofuel used in transportation.

Biomass is a renewable resource, which makes biofuel a clean and eco-friendly alternative to non-renewable sources of energy like those derived from fossil fuels.

The United States is the second largest producer of biofuel and is expected to produce 14 billion liters of biofuel from 2023 to 2025.

Safeopedia Explains Biofuel

Biofuels are divided into primary and secondary biofuels based on how they are produced:

  • Primary biofuels make direct use of organic materials without treatment or processing. These include timber, pellets, and woodchips.
  • Secondary biofuels are organic materials that have been processed or treated and converted before being used as fuel. These include liquid biofuels such as ethanol and diesel.

Converting Biomass to Biofuel

Primary biofuels are ready to use with minimal processing. The process of extracting energy from secondary biofuels, however, is more elaborate.

Ethanol, for example, is made from plant biomass that have undergone a fermentation process. Plant sugars and starches (typically corn starch in the US) are metabolized to produce ethanol (CH3CH2OH) with the help of bacteria and yeast-like microorganisms. That ethanol is then used as a blending agent that is mixed with gasoline to cut down on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and increase octane.

Biodiesel, on the other hand, is produced by converting clean and used vegetable oils and animal fats using a process called transesterification, a chemical reaction that results from the interaction of an alcohol (like methanol or ethanol) with those oils and fats. Biodiesel can be used to fuel diesel engines without and can be blended with petroleum diesel in any percentage, though the most common blend is B20 (20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel).

Advantages and Disadvantages of Biofuels

Advantages of biofuel:

  • It is an entirely renewable resource, since it is derived from biomass
  • Producing biofuels is cost-effective when compared to gasoline
  • Biofuels are fuel efficient, as they contain smaller concentrations of chemicals like chlorine and sulfur
  • Since biomass can be produced or acquired anywhere in the world, biofuels can be produced locally, thereby reducing the need for transportation or the building of extensive pipeline infrastructure

Disadvantages of biofuel:

  • Biofuels produce considerably less energy than is generated by the combustion of fossil fuels
  • Crops used to produce biomass require large amounts of arable land, potentially leading to overfarming issues like soil erosion, deforestation, salinity, and fertilizer run-off
  • Some of the oils that can be used to produce biodiesels, such as palm oil, are derived from rain forests. An increase in demand could result in the destruction of these delicate ecosystems and displace the animal populations that reside in them
  • Biofuel is not suitable for all vehicles

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