What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Biofuels?


Introduction to Biofuels

Biofuel is the any fuel which is derived from the biomass or something that is once alive. It is a crop grown by a farmer in a field which is later turned into a sugar paste or ethanol or fuel used by vehicles or machines. Both the biofuels and the normal fuels produce emissions like hydrocarbons and NOx.

Since biofuels are made from the crops they consume CO2 as they grow. So when these are burned in the engine of vehicles that CO2 which was consumed is released back into the atmosphere and hence there is no net carbon emissions. Whereas normal fuel which is made from the petroleum when burned emits new CO2 into the air.

Most of the commercial biofuel is not the purest form but usually mixed with the traditional fuels. Example is B20 which is a common biofuel contains about 20% biodiesel and 80% diesel and this by burning more cleanly reduces the carbon emissions by more than 20%.

Types of Biofuels

There are different types of biofuels.

Biogas

Biogas is usually 70% methane and 30% CO2. Here lots of microbes are used to ferment plants and animal waste in the absence of oxygen. The production of this can be made in generate where the temperature is maintained constant. It cannot be stored as a liquid so as to be used immediately. Decomposition of waste products by the bacteria release methane gas which is flammable hence can be used as fuel. However it causes greenhouse effect.

Bio-diesel

Biodiesel is usually processed from the 2 main low value source materials like cooking oil or waste derived from the animal residues. Combustion of these biodiesels release low amounts of CO2 than that of ethanol and fossil fuels.

Ethanol Based Fuels

There are mainly 2 ways by which these fuels can be made. First one is done through hydration of ethane, which is not a renewal source as it is made from crude oil and another way is carried out through fermentation of some natural products. Hence ethanol is produced when the glucose is break down by the yeast in anaerobic conditions that is in the absence of oxygen. This ethanol is then to be separated from the yeast and the remaining glucose through distillation process. In some countries ethanol is a very effective when used in combination with the petrol making it a good fuel source.

Bio-butanol

Produced by the fermentation of starch. Energy content in this type of bio-fuel is the highest among others and can be used in combination with the bio-diesel to reduce the carbon emissions. This can be used as a solvent in the textile industry and in perfumes.

Bio-hydrogen

It is produced using number of processes like pyrolysis, biological fermentation or gasification. It is a perfect alternative for fossil fuels.

Advantages

There are many advantages to the biofuels over other sources of energy.

  • Biofuel productions are independent of large-scale infrastructure, thus farmers or any other restaurant owners can take care of their own energy productions.

  • Biofuels contribute to the decarbonisation in vehicles making it an instant and cost efficient method. It releases lower carbonic emissions which is about 90% less compared to the diesel.

  • Biofuels release less carbon monoxide which does not add to the pollution effects.

  • Combustion of fossil fuels release more CO2 than that of ethanol and biodiesel.

  • Pollution free environment in the metro cities. Hence it is a cleaner fuel source than that of petrol/diesel alternatives.

  • Biofuels can be made from the renewal biomass material or organic manure like agricultural and domestic waste and cooking oil. Hence the bye-products produced from the biofuel making can be used as fertilizers.

  • Biofuel which is renewable and biodiverse majorly used for transportation, electricity and heating purposes.

  • As biofuels made from the alkanes of organic matter, these are often easily accessible to people. However these differs from the fossil fuels which are found only in specific places and not easily accessible to people.

Dis-advantages

Some of the disadvantages include -

  • Biofuel is a biomass consists of organic matter that can be burn to produce energy. However studies show that it sometimes uses more energy for the production of biofuels than they actually produce. Hence the net gain of energy is nill.

  • These are grown on the land which we use to grow food producing plants or crops.

  • Some of the biofuel producing plants are seasonal, so not readily available thus increasing the fuel prices.

  • For biofuel productions, many plants are knocked down (deforestation) resulting in an increase of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere which cannot be converted to oxygen. With the clearance of rain forests, certain indigenous people who survive on that land are put at risk.

  • For the ethanol production tons of corn is needed which is grown on farm land taking care of all its needs including pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers chemicals. This results in the contamination of soil and water. Also it shows adverse effects on the people‚Äôs health who are living nearby.

  • The production of these biofuels increases the prices of the food products which the people usually consume.

  • Combustion of these biofuels may emit CO2 in the atmosphere which is a greenhouse gas which absorbs infra-red radiation affecting our planet environment.

Conclusion

Biofuel includes any kind of biomass which is converted into liquid fuel. These are primarily used for powering vehicles. Most common types of biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels are readily available as any biomass can easily be converted into biofuel.

As biofuels are cleaner than the petroleum or diesel, these usually release low carbon emissions than that of other alternatives. However, production of biofuels often uses massive amounts of the organic waste sources and harms the nature.

Example is that the natural plants are often cleared to grow the plants used for production of biofuels but it is also difficult to find the method of production with significantly less problematic ways. On the whole one can conclude that at least bio-fuels as an energy source are far better for our environment than that of the fossil fuels.

Updated on: 11-May-2023

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