What is Biofuel?
The increased prices for traditional energy sources make biofuel use for household and industrial purposes increasingly relevant. This article will consider the basic characteristics and types of biofuel.
Why is biofuel needed?
The history of the global biofuel market goes back several decades. Back in the days of the first oil crisis in the 1970s, humanity began to think about the search for alternative energy sources that could replace traditional hydrocarbon fuel. However, the market conditions of that time (relatively low compared to current oil prices) and the imperfection of technologies significantly reduced the commercial attractiveness of biofuel projects.
The modern biofuel market began to take shape in the last decade. Among the factors that led to its development, there are political, environmental, and social factors. Among them are:
- the desire to reduce the dependence of individual states on oil imports, which guarantees them economic benefits and, at the same time, greater political freedom;
- compliance with the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, which provides for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions;
- the need to develop the agricultural sector of the economy, create new jobs, etc.
The essence of biofuel
Biofuel is an alternative energy source for vehicles with internal combustion engines. Following biofuel definition, it is fuel from biological raw materials, similar in energy characteristics to conventional fuel types. Unlike organic fuel, which is made from minerals (oil and gas), biofuel is obtained from processing grain and other starchy crops, oils, and biological waste. According to modern research, bioethanol can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30-80% compared to gasoline engines. It is because plants, in photosynthesis, can process the carbon dioxide produced by the combustion of bioethanol in car engines. And these plants, in turn, are used in producing renewable fuel – bioethanol. So this process is often called a “closed carbon cycle.”
What are the types of biofuel?
Like the main types of petroleum-based fuel, energy sources of plant origin are divided into three types:
- Bioethanol is an alcohol substitute for gasoline produced from grain crops, sugar beets and corn, soybeans, and sugar cane. Several types of gasoline are made from it. For example, E5 consists of 95% gasoline and 5% biofuel, E10 has a proportion of 90% / 10%, respectively, and E85 – 17% gasoline and 83% biofuel. E100 consists of ethanol (96.5%) and water (3.5%);
- Biodiesel is produced from rapeseed oil and palm oil. There are three categories of diesel mixtures: B5, B7, and B10, where the number is the percentage of vegetable oils. These types of fuel belong to the so-called “first-generation biofuel.” It is made directly from plants, so it is considered a renewable resource and, in some regions, a relatively cheap and reliable source of energy;
- Biogas and other biofuel types belong to the “second generation.” Biogas is a replacement for natural gas obtained from waste from livestock farms and garbage that has undergone a process of decomposition without oxygen with the participation of bacteria. It is a synthetic fuel from biomass, such as organic waste, straw, or cellulose. In terms of characteristics, it is more similar to fossil fuels. What are the advantages of this type of fuel? For its use, internal combustion engines practically do not require changes.
Biofuels advantages and disadvantages
Biofuels have advantages such as reducing carbon emissions and being readily available from locally sourced materials. They also have disadvantages such as the high cost of production, the competition with food production, and the negative impact on biodiversity due to land use change. Another disadvantage of biofuels is that they have lower energy density compared to traditional fuels, which reduces their efficiency. Despite these drawbacks, biofuels remain a promising source of energy that can help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and promote sustainable development.
Until now, biofuels occupy a small share of the energy market. So, about 90% of global biofuel consumption is bioethanol and biodiesel. Other alternative options are characterized by low competitiveness due to the high cost of production. For example, in the USA, the level of consumption of alternative automotive fuel is only 4-5%, approximately the same figure in Europe.