Biofuel has become a mainstream fuel popular with companies that want to reduce their emissions in a cost-effective way while maintaining strong engine performance.
A biofuel is any type of fuel in which the energy is derived from the process of biological carbon fixation. Biological carbon fixation occurs in living organisms.
The biggest difference between a biofuel and a fossil fuel is the time period over which the fixation occurs. In a biofuel, fixation occurs in months or years.
In a fossil fuel, fixation occurs over thousands or millions of years. Additionally, fossil fuels are made entirely of hydrogen and carbon atoms while biofuels contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
Here are some facts:
Biofuels are nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around as long as cars have. Henry Ford originally designed the Model T to run on ethanol. And people have been running diesel engines on vegetable oil much longer than they have been running diesel engines on petroleum-based diesel fuel.
Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the diesel engine, originally designed it to run on vegetable oil. In fact, one of his early demonstrations, at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1897, had a diesel engine running on peanut oil.
Petroleum based fuel originally won out over biofuel because of cost. The table is slowly turning though as fossil fuels become more expensive.
During World War II, the demand for biofuel increased once again as fossil fuels became less abundant.
Biofuel surged in popularity during the energy crisis of the 1970s.
Ford’s best-selling F-150 truck now includes a diesel option, and it supports a B20 blend of biodiesel (20 per cent biodiesel, 80 per per cent petroleum diesel).
Biofuels burn cleaner than fossil fuels, resulting in fewer tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases, particulate emissions, and substances that cause acid rain such as sulfur.
Biofuel production uses anywhere from 2 to 84 times as much water as fossil fuel production. Water use can be mitigated by planting crops that do not require irrigation.
When the entire life cycle of a biofuel is considered, it may actually generate more greenhouse gases than fossil fuel.
The amount of land required to meet the world’s energy needs using biofuels is a major concern. Depending on the feedstock, the requirements can be massive. The following numbers reflect the amount of land that would be needed to meet the requirements of just the global aviation industry.
Jatropha would need to be planted over 2.7 million square kilometers. That is an area roughly 1/3 the size of Australia.
Camelina would require an area of 2 million square kilometers.
Algae would need 68,000 square kilometers to meet the needs of the aviation industry. That is an area roughly the size of all of Ireland.
The aviation industry accounts for only 13 per cent of all fuel consumption, so the values above would need to be increased 10-fold to encompass global fuel demand.
Jatraopha would need to be planted over 27 million square kilometers just to meet all fuel demands. An area that vast would cover all of Russia and the United States and still need a little more room.
Algae would require an area of 680,000 square kilometers, or all of France plus some.
About 1 billion gallons of biodiesel are produced annually.
Bioethanol is more popular in the Americas while biodiesel is more popular in Europe.
The U.S. and Brazil produce 87 per cent of the world’s fuel ethanol.
More than 22 billion gallons of fuel ethanol are produced each year.
Ethanol is added to gasoline to improve octane and reduce emissions.
Biodiesel is added to petroleum-based diesel to reduce emissions and improve engine life.
Concerns about the global price of food have resulted in many nations revising (downward) plans for biofuel production and use.
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