Last updated on September 16th, 2019
Let’s evaluate biofuels as an alternative form of energy and how it works. These are the many biofuel pros and cons that you should be aware of.
Biofuel Pros and Cons Analysis: How Does It Work?
As the name suggests, biofuels are derived from plant and their products. In some cases, these fuels are then mixed with fossil fuels to improve their efficiency.
For the production of biofuel, plants are specifically grown and harvested. For instance, biofuel ethanol comes from regular corn. This fuel serves as an additive for gasoline.
Sugar cane is the basic source for the production of ethanol in Brazil. However, the United Kingdom uses a different biofuel called biodiesel, which is generated from palm oil.
Turning organic material into a usable fuel requires proper heat, chemical reaction, and fermentation. If you need help with renewable energy, check out our renewable energy dictionary to learn more.
Let’s take a look at how to make biofuel.
Biofuel is a fuel that comes from the biomass including plant or algae or animal wastes. The required material for making biofuel can be grown on a regular basis, hence this fuel is referred to as a source of renewable energy. On the other hand, fossil fuels like natural gas, petroleum, and coal are non-renewable energy sources.
In order to turn harvested plant material into biofuel, the manufacturers utilize some basic methods. For instance, corn is an ideal material to make biofuel. During the production process, the corn crops are crushed to create a mash.
This allows the enzymes to break down the corn mash into sugars. This sugar liquid is then fermented with yeast to make alcohol, which is also a plant byproduct. After that, the mash is removed from the alcohol through the filtration process.
During biofuel production, nothing goes to waste, as the mash separated from the alcohol serves the purpose for a livestock feed. After heating the alcohol for a specific time, it turns into biofuel ethanol.
Types of Biofuels
We have been using biofuels since the caveman first come to know how to ignite a fire. At that time, wood was the biofuel, which they used to burn and produce heat. At present, biofuel is taking the place of fossil fuel, especially when it comes to the production of electricity.
There are numerous powerhouses, which utilize wood, grass or other types of biomass to produce heat and generate steam to run the turbine.
Depending on the production process and material, biofuels are of different types. Some of them are mentioned below.
In fact, Liquid biofuels are of great importance as they can replace the other nonrenewable energy resources. We can use it as a fuel to run our buses and other means of transportation. Ethanol or ethyl alcohol is a liquid biofuel that is used after blending with gasoline.
These are the first-generation ethanol, which comes from the food crops. On the contrary, second-generation biofuel is derived from low-value biomass. By processing this high cellulose content, it is possible to make cellulosic ethanol. We can use different materials to create this type of biofuel including crop residues, wood chips, and municipal waste.
We can produce cellulosic ethanol through sugarcane bagasse, which is a waste product that comes out during sugar production. The conversion rate is lower as compared to the first-generation biofuels; hence, cellulosic ethanol usually serves only as a gasoline additive.
See Related: What is Nuclear Energy? A Pros and Cons Analysis
Biodiesel is another type of liquid biofuel, which comes from oily plants like palm oil or soybean. With a view to produce biodiesel, we can also utilize the used cooking oil from restaurants or hotels.
Biodiesel is much popular in Europe, as people use this biofuel to run their diesel vehicles. The utilization of cyanobacteria and algae to create third-generation biodiesel looks quite promising.
By producing this product on a large scale, we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. These are some important facts about using biodiesel.
We can use biomass as a fuel in different forms. In fact, any kind of organic matter that is capable of burning and produces heat can be used as a biofuel.
Some of the most noticeable examples of biomass include crops residue, wood chips, and manure. It is a kind of renewable energy, which provides the maximum amount of heat as compared to fossil fuels.
In order to create biomass energy, we can use two basic methods. First, one relates to the burning of the biomass in a furnace. The second way of using biomass is quite interesting.
In this procedure, the plant materials digested and excreted by the cows and buffaloes are stored in an enclosed place. After a few days, the cow manure starts to release methane gas, which we can use to meet our domestic needs.
Some biomass produces a biochar output that can be sold for other applications like water reuse.
See Related: Best Books on Renewable Energy
Environmental Benefits of Biofuels
Apart from being beneficial as a renewable energy source, biofuel also offers different advantages linked with our environment. Since biofuels are plant-based fuels, they have much little contribution when it comes to climate change and global warming. However, in the future, when large scale production of biofuels will take place, it may result in the emission of greenhouse gases.
On the contrary, cellulosic biomass is relatively more beneficial than other types of biofuels.
This is so, as the land we used to grow our food products will be shared with the crops grown for the biofuel. Hence, cellulosic biomass is more viable as it doesn’t require any specific place for its manufacturing, as the raw material for this type of biofuel is usually a waste product.
By providing a specific place for the production of raw materials for biofuel, we can improve the production of this energy source. It can also cast a positive impact on the economy of developing countries.
Using our waste can help keep flora and fauna healthy providing a better situation for the environment.
Pros and Cons of Biofuels
Biofuels have their own advantages and disadvantages. To discuss this matter in a comprehensive manner, given below are some of the known pros and cons of biofuels.
Advantages of Biofuels
Following are the advantages of biofuels, which include their production cost, resources, and environmental benefits.
Cost of Production and Price
The cost of producing biofuels is relatively less than fossil fuels. Hence, their prices are quite reasonable and are less expensive than gasoline. For instance, ethanol is much cheaper than gasoline and diesel.
With an increase in the worldwide demand for oil, it creates a huge gap between the supply and demand.
This suggests that the prices of fossil fuels will continue to surge in the future.
Resources and Materials
When it comes to fossil fuels, we can’t produce these fuels. Rather we can only use these naturally occurring materials after refining them. On the other hand, we can manufacture biofuels through a wide range of materials like manure, crop waste, and other byproducts.
In fact, biofuels is a great example of recycling where we can utilize waste materials to produce energy.
Renewable Energy Source
This is one of the major advantages of biofuels. Fossil fuels take hundreds or even thousands of years for their production through the process of natural decay.
However, biofuel is a renewable energy source, as we can grow new crops and make more biofuel by using these crops and their byproducts.
Minimum Carbon Emissions
After burning, the biofuels expel relatively less amount of carbon in the air. The toxic materials are also low when compared to fossil fuels. Hence, we can use biofuels as a safer alternative to fossil fuels.
Growth and Security
In fact, every country can produce its own biofuels. Hence, there will be no issue of dependence on oil producing countries, as we see in the case of fossil fuel.
By minimizing the dependence on external fuel sources, even the small countries can protect their integrity. Hence, these countries can secure their future without any external pressure or influence.
Since we can produce biofuels locally, the plants for its production can provide employment for a number of workers and skilled employees. In addition, to produce biofuel, we also need a consistent supply of biofuel crops. This means that we need to grow these crops on a large scale.
It will not only provide job opportunity for the workers but also result in economic stimulation.
Disadvantage of Biofuels
Apart from various positive aspects associated with the biofuels, there are a few disadvantages linked with these energy sources.
The energy output of biofuels is much lower than fossil fuels. Hence, it requires large quantities of biofuel to produce the required amount of energy. This has created some doubts regarding the efficiency of these fuels. Most of the analysts are of the view that biofuels can serve domestic purposes.
Hence, we can’t get maximum benefit through these fuels while using them in the industrial sector.
Indirect Carbon Emissions
Although biofuels are known to have less carbon footprints, there are some other ways they can increase carbon emissions. The major concerns are about the productions process of the biofuels.
It starts with the cultivation of the crop, which requires a lot of machinery that runs on fossil fuels. After the crop is ready, you again need giant harvesters to get the crop. Moreover, in order to increase the cultivable land, we are destroying forests at a fast pace, which is the biggest cause of global warming.
Much Higher Initial Cost
With a view to refine the biofuels and make them more energy efficient fuels, it requires to build proper infrastructure. This means that you need to spend a considerable amount to create such a setup. A
t present, the production of different biofuels is costing more than fossil fuels. This may change in the future when the technology will be more advanced and less expensive.
Another concern that raises the eyebrows of analysts and environmental scientists is the disturbance of the food cycle. This is so, as when the demand for biofuel will increase, we need to grow more fuel crops for this purpose.
For instance, in the future, we will be growing large quantities of corn not for the purpose to eat it but to produce biofuel. As a result, the prices of food items will grow up, making it difficult for common people to meet their food requirements.
Apart from this, the use of valuable cropland to grow fuel crops will create a shortage of other crops. This could possibly lead to a shortage of different food items.
May Strain Water Resources
In order to grow different fuel crops, you need a lot of water. Hence, the use of massive quantities of water can put a strain on water resources.
This may also result in disturbing the irrigation system in some regions.
See Related: Best Greywater Systems for Homes
Destruction of Cultivable Land
The growth of similar crops used for biofuel production can affect the productivity of the land. Monoculture can affect the quality of the soil by absorbing all the essential nutrients.
If you alternate crops, it will help to save the vital nutrients of the soil. Biofuel discourages the crop rotation, which will affect the condition of the earth and weakens its overall strength.
Conclusion on Biofuel Pros and Cons
Biofuel is a source of energy, that comes from the various products and byproducts of plants. This is a type of renewable energy source, which we can produce by cultivating different fuel crops. Initially, we are growing the fuel crops at small scale, hence the overall production of biofuel isn’t sufficient to meet our needs.
Furthermore, biofuel is a sustainable energy source and serves as a great alternative to fossil fuels. The renewability is surely a great advantage of biofuel, which suggests that we can replenish this energy by growing fuel crops. It also casts a positive impact on our environment by emitting a minimum amount of greenhouse gases.
Apart from the pros of biofuels, there are some cons as well. One of the major concern about these fuels is the requirement of a lot of energy for their production.
For instance, by using 2 gallons of fossil fuels, we can produce 12 gallons of biofuels. Besides, there are some other costs, which increase its overall price.
When it comes to using biodiesel to run a vehicle, you need to do some alterations. These are very little conversion, which helps the regular diesel engine to run on biodiesel. As a whole, biofuels look quite promising when it comes to produce electricity or use them to run our vehicles.
Since the technology is quite new and requires some time for its development, we hope that one day, biofuels will serve the purpose to meet the energy needs of our world. Until then, we have no other choice but to rely on fossil fuels.