BIOFUELS: Production, benefits and technology

Jim Rex-Lawson Moses

03 April 2012, Sweetcrude, LAGOS – The idea of alternative energy is nothing new to society. In fact, humanity has always grappled with the need to use alternative sources of energy especially when current resources are running low. During medieval times, people realised that the main source of fuel, which was wood, was becoming an increasingly scares resource.

This led to the use of coal as an alternative source of energy. Likewise, before the 1800s, whale oil was the most favored source of lamp and lubrication oil. But by mid-century, the stock was heavily depleted, and fossil fuel became a valuable commodity. Because of these changes in the past, the carbon emission levels in the atmosphere increased to record levels.

What is Alternative Energy?
Based on the foregoing, Alternative energy Sources could be referred to as any source of energy designed to limit or replace an environmentally harmful form of energy. Today, climate change is the primary motivation behind modifying energy sources. Through science, new means are being developed to harness power from untapped resources and even create cleaner ways of using some of the old resources. Also, an effort to reinvent the power grid has made the transmission of power more efficient.

Common types of alternative energy
1. Biofuel and ethanol: Biofuel and ethanol are plant-derived substitutes of gasoline for powering vehicles.
2. Solar energy: Solar energy is generating of electricity from the sun. It is split up into two types, thermal and electric energy. These two subgroups mean that they heat up homes (and water) and generate electricity respectively.
3. Wind energy: Wind energy is generating of electricity from the wind.
4. Geothermal energy: Geothermal energy is using hot water or steam from the Earth’s interior for heating buildings or electricity generation.
5. Hydrogen: Hydrogen is used as clean fuel for airplanes, spaceships, and vehicles.

Biofuel and Types.
Biofuels are fuels made from recently living organisms. They can be divided into three categories:
*First-generation biofuels – made largely from edible sugars and starches,
*Second-generation biofuels – made from nonedible plant materials, and
*Third-generation biofuels which are made from algae and other microbes.

Biofuel is one of the most promising types of alternative energy source. In fact, there are actually several different types of biofuel. The different types of this fuel also vary partly depending on the different types of applications that they are intended for. For example, this includes the distinction made between biodiesel and biogas. These are obviously intended for use with different applications, such as diesel engines versus standard car engines.

However, perhaps what proves to be even more of an important distinction as to how these special types of fuels are categorized is based on the type of materials and resources that they are derived from. First, all types of biofuels are derived from some type of biomass. Biomass refers to a wide variety of organic and natural resources that include solid biomass, liquid fuels and different types of biogases.

Biofuels can actually be extracted or derived from both living and nonliving materials. However, all of these materials and original resources must have been organic and not synthesized in order for them to truly be considered as a biofuel. As stated above, some of the more prevalent origins that are common in regards to biofuel derivations are algae, decomposed wood and vegetable oil.

Another special type of biofuel is bioethanol. It is an alcohol which is produced through the process of fermentation of sugars from plant materials, such as sugar and starch crops.

*Does not require any radical changes to switch to the use of biofuels – unlike the difficulties in switching to other renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.
*Are cheaper than fossil fuels. Many governments are now offering tax incentives to buy greener cars that run on biofuels (ethanol being one example).
*Are considered ‘carbon neutral’ by some people. This is because the carbon dioxide they release when burnt is equal to the amount that the plants absorbed out of the atmosphere. Therefore, they don’t contribute to global warming.
However, it does require some fuel to power the machinery on the farms where biofuels are produced. Still, they are better than fossil fuels! Research suggests that they reduce carbon emissions by 50-60%.
*Reduce dependence on foreign oils. Oil fluctuates in price rapidly, so changing to biofuels will help buffer against the change.
*Emit less particulate pollution than other fuels, especially diesel.
*Are renewable sources of energy as you can just keep producing more.
*Ethanol is very inexpensive to produce.
*Can help prevent engine knocking.

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