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Biofuels

Don Wyeth

Biofuels

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2 mins
January 18, 2021

  There has been discussion of late regarding biofuels as a part of the carbon footprint reduction solution. “Biofuels are fuels produced directly or indirectly from organic material – biomass – including plant materials and animal waste.” www.greenfacts.org “Ethanol, biodiesel, green diesel, and biogas are the four main secondary products produced through refining and can be used as transportation fuel and as ingredients in industrial processes. “The two most common types of biofuels in use today are ethanol and biodiesel, both of which represent the first generation of biofuel technology.”  www.energy.gov

  The production of fuel grade ethanol, which is mixed with gasoline for use in cars and trucks utilizes two sources of raw material. In the United States this fuel is made from corn. Brazil, on the other hand, utilizes sugarcane. In both cases, ethanol is a product of fermentation, identical to the process used for making beer and wine. Biodiesel is produced by ‘cracking’ waste vegetable oils and liquified animal fats using heat and a series of chemical reactions. Green diesel, on the other hand, is produced using living plants such as algae and cellulose. Biogas (methane gas) is the end product of the digestion of animal manure or other organic materials.

  There is a debate right now about the efficacy of producing and using these fuels. One argument on the plus side is that the biofuel process is a “relatively green technology”. It is fairly well established that “…the overall adverse impact on our environment is significantly lower compared to conventional fuels.” environmental-conscience.com Considering that we are trying to move away from the use of fossil fuels, biofuels may help with the transition toward fully sustainable and renewable fuel sources. Another plus is the relatively low unit price for biofuel energy. “Once the necessary equipment has been installed, the unit price for energy that is produced through biofuels is quite low compared to conventional fuels.” In addition, biofuels can be produced locally, virtually eliminating the need to transport them over long distances.

  On the negative side, large quantities of raw materials are necessary for the process, which can create shortages of those materials elsewhere in industry. Also, the manufacture of biofuels involves a large initial cost (for new equipment). There is also a rigorous set of regulations that need to be followed in order to operate biofuel facilities “The production of biofuels can lead to increasing global food prices.” Unstable food costs could mean “global hunger and starvation for people worldwide.”

  It is necessary for us to continue look to the scientific community for further research and the tweaking of production methods. This fuel group has great potential if pursued properly.


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Don Wyeth

Passionate and intelligent columnist from Madison, WI.

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