Bio Fuels

EnergyNewsCyprus.com brings you information about Bio Fuel, Biodiesel, wood chip and other bio fuels in Cyprus and the Mediterranean region.

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A biofuel is defined as any fuel which is obtained through a process of biological conversion of an organic matter. The chemical structure of biofuels can differ in the same way that the chemical structure of fossil fuels can differ. For the most part, our interest is in liquid biofuels as they are easy to transport. The various biofuels are:

 

Ethanol

Ethanol has about half the energy per mass of gasoline, which means it takes twice as much ethanol to get the same energy. Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline, however, producing less carbon monoxide. However, ethanol produces more ozone than gasoline and contributes substantially to smog. Engines must be modified to run on ethanol.

 

Biodiesel

Has only slightly less energy than regular diesel. It is more corrosive to engine parts than standard diesel, which means engines have to be designed to take biodiesel. It burns cleaner than diesel, producing less particulate and fewer sulfur compounds.

Methanol

Methanol has about one third to one half as much energy as methane. Methanol is a liquid and easy to transport whereas methane is a gas that must be compressed for transportation.

Biobutanol

Biobutanol has slightly less energy than gasoline, but can run in any car that uses gasoline without the need for modification to engine components.

Biofuel versus Fossil Fuel

There are several factors that decide the balance between biofuel and fossil fuel use around the world. Those factors are cost, availability, and food supply.

All three factors listed above are actually interrelated. To begin, the availability of fossil fuels has been of concern almost from day one of their discovery. Pumping fuel from the ground is a difficult and expensive process, which adds greatly to the cost of these fuels. Additionally, fossil fuels are not renewable, which means they will run out at some point. As our ability to pump fossil fuels from the ground diminishes, the available supply will decrease, which will inevitably lead to an increase in price.

It was originally thought that biofuels could be produced in almost limitless quantity because they are renewable. Unfortunately, our energy needs far out-pace our ability to grown biomass to make biofuels for one simple reason, land area. There is only so much land fit for farming in the world and growing biofuels necessarily detracts from the process of growing food. As the population grows, our demands for both energy and food grow. At this point, we do not have enough land to grow both enough biofuel and enough food to meet both needs. The result of this limit has an impact on both the cost of biofuel and the cost of food. For wealthier countries, the cost of food is less of an issue. However, for poorer nations, the use of land for biofuels, which drives up the cost of food, can have a tremendous impact.

The balance between food and biofuel is what keeps the relatively simple process of growing and making biofuels from being substantially cheaper than fossil fuel. When this factor is combined with an increased ability (thanks to advances in technology) to extract oil from the ground, the price of fossil fuel is actually lower than that of biofuel for the most part.

Assuming we can overcome the problem of biofuels interrupting the food supply (such as growing algae in the ocean), can we overcome the problem of biofuels contributing to global warming? The answer, surprisingly, may be yes.

It is true that biofuels produce carbon dioxide, which is a potent greenhouse gas and the one most often blamed for global warming. However, it is also true that growing plants consumes carbon dioxide. Thus, the equation becomes a simple balancing act. If the plants we grow utilize the same amount of carbon dioxide that we produce, then we will have a net increase of zero and no global warming. How realistic is this view?

The other problem that we run into with biofuels is that carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas we have to worry about. Other chemicals, like nitrous oxide, are also greenhouse gases and growing plants using fertilizer produces a lot of nitrous oxide. Basically, fertilizer contains nitrogen, which plants need to grow. However, most plants cannot convert molecular nitrogen into the elemental nitrogen they need. For this process, plants rely on bacteria. As it turns out, bacteria not only produce nitrogen that plants can use, they also produce nitrogen products like nitrous oxide, and probably more than was previously thought. The net result is that we may be balancing the CO2 ­ equation by using biofuels, but we are unbalancing the N2O part of the equation and still causing global warming.

 

 

Biomass

Biomass is simply organic matter. In others words, it is dead material that was once living. Kernels of corn, mats of algae, and stalks of sugar cane are all biomass. Before global warming related to burning fossil fuels became a major factor in determining where energy came from, the major concern was that fossil fuels, which are considered limited in supply, would run out over the next century. It was thought that if we could produce hydrocarbons another way, and quickly, then we could meet our energy demands without much problem. This leads to one of the major separating factors between a biofuel and a fossil fuel – renewability.

A fossil fuel is not considered renewable because it takes millions of years to form and humans really can’t wait that long. Biofuel, on the other hand, comes from biomass, which can be produced year after year through sustainable farming practices. This means biomass and biofuel are renewable (we can replace used biofuel over a very short period of time).

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