Future lies in Green Energy: An introduction to bio-fuels

All of us have heard of biofuels, green energy, etc. Let’s look at some of the reasons behind an assertion that green energy would be beneficial in future.

  • We require oil for cars & light trucks
  • There is ever increasing demand of new cars and engine designs
  • Rapid changeover of automobiles is not possible

For all these reasons we would require some fuel which is of less cost to consumers, automakers and government. Biofuel like ethanol, which is an ecofriendly if used, could resolve all these issues.
Here are some numbers which support the above statement:

  • By the use of ethanol as a fuel, Petroleum use would be reduced by 40% for cars & light trucks
  • Ethanol costs $0.75/gal whereas  Petroleum costs $1.60/gal
  • In Brazil uses of Ethanol has led to ~ 60-80% reduction in Greenhouse gases as well as a $50b savings seen on oil imports

Talking about The leading producers of bioethanol, the world’s top ethanol fuel producers in 2011 were the United States with 13.9 billion U.S. liquid gallons(bg) (52.6 billion liters) and Brazil with 5.6 bg (21.1 billion liters), accounting together for 87.1% of world production of 22.36 billion US gallons (84.6 billion liters).( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol_fuel_by_country#cite_note-RFAOutlook2012-1)

According to a report on 09/10/2013 by novozymes which is  the world’s largest producer of industrial enzymes,they have opened up the world’s largest advanced biofuels facility in Northern Italy. Situated in fields outside the city of Crescentino, it is the first plant in the world to be designed and built to produce bioethanol from agricultural residues and energy crops at commercial scale using enzymatic conversion.

What is Biofuel?

It’s a solid, liquid, or gaseous fuel consisting of, or derived from biomass i.e. recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, such as manure from cows.

Types of Biofuels

Some of the biofuels are:

  • BioHydrogen
  • BioGas
  • Bioethanol
  • Biodiesel
  • Bioelectricity
  • Biorefinery

How Is Biofuel Made?

Original source of the energy which is converted into biofuel, is sun. It is captured through photosynthesis by the plants which is used as feedstock for biofuel production, and stored in the plants’ cells. Various plants and plant‐derived materials can be used for biofuel manufacturing. Some of them are:

  • Natural oils
  • Sugar crops
  • Flaxseed, rapeseed, etc.
  • Waste from industry, agriculture, forestry, and households
  • Wood and its by products

Evolution of biofuels:

Here are different generations of biofuels.

‘First-generation’ biofuels:

First-generation biofuels are produced from plant-based starch, sugars and oils. Since these are also used for human consumption and livestock feed,  shortage in supply could lead to higher prices

‘Second-generation’ biofuels:

Second-generation biofuels use lower-value biomass residues. Examples of producing second generation biofuels are: Lignocellulose to ethanol, vegetable oil to biodiesel, etc.

‘Third generation’ biofuels:

The Third Generation of biofuels is based on improvements in the production of biomass. It utilizes specially engineered energy crops such as algae as its energy source. Algae can be used to make algal hydrogen, algal biodiesel.

‘Fourth generation’ biofuels:

Biofuels are made from high solar efficiency cultivations. This metabolic engineering of algae for production of biofuel is considered as fourth generation of biofuel.


Now let’s take a look at the advantages of using biofuel:

  • Cheaper fuel for consumers
  • More energy security & diversified sources
  • Higher farm incomes & rural employment
  • Significant carbon emission reduction
  • Faster GDP growth, lower imports  & energy prices
  • Biofuel for transportation can reduces GHG (provide full form here) emission

Disadvantages of biofuels:

  • Though biofuels have a number of advantages over fossil fuels there are some disadvantage as well which we should be aware of:
  • Threaten people’s food supply as they compete with food production for land and water which results in increase of the food price.
  • Destroy forests and other valuable habitat
  • Use of Fertilizers in the biofuel production may harm the environment and may cause water pollution
  • Large quantities of water is required to irrigate the biofuel which may affect local and regional water resources

This is just a brief introduction on biofuels and how the use of renewable energy can be beneficial for environment. If you want to learn the basics and detailed information about environmental science do enroll in the following course “Intro to Environmental Science” (https://www.millionlights.org/Course/AboutCourse?id=33&type=&pe=0 ).