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What is Biofuel and How Does it Provide Renewable and Sustainable Energy Solutions?

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/18/2010

What is biofuel? Many are asking because it has improved the present day conditions of our environment, by lessening air pollution. As a renewable source of energy, it has promoted sustainability in 31 states that uses decaying agricultural wastes & methanol emissions of bacteria in most landfills

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    What is Biofuel?

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    What is biofuel and how does it promote and provide sustainability as alternative source of renewable energy? Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicular combustions have caused damage to the Earth’s atmosphere and altered our present day climate.

    Today, biofuel represents 45% of the world’s supply of energy and has helped lessen the greenhouse gas emmissions as well as the nation's dependence on crude oil.

    Biofuel is a renewable source energy, which has the capability to be replenished mainly because of its inexhaustible supply, ability to re-grow or to be recycled. Plants as one of the sources of biofuel have the ability to capture carbon in the air, reuse the carbon as fuel then simply absorbs back the carbon released through combustion.

    The three most common biofuels that are expected to be widely used and renewed are: (1) biodiesel, (2) bioethanol and (3) biomethanol.

    As an example, biofuel can be extracted from the alcohol produced from the fermentation of plant sugar, corn and other agricultural crops. It is considered as viable for use as transport and as heating fuel.

    Biofuel is also known as bioenergy, and is an alternative source of energy drawn from biological sources comprised of biomass and biogas and co-firing.

    Biomass as a source of biofuel derives energy from organic materials that contain chemical energy derived from sunlight. Examples of biomass are wood and its wastes, straw, animal manure, sugar cane and many other agricultural products and byproducts. A biomass plant in Burlington, Vermont is using wood wastes to produce at least 50 megawatts of electricity, that sustains the electricity being used annually by more than 120,000 homes in the area.

    Biogas is also a source of biofuel, mainly producing methane and carbon dioxide unaided by oxygen drawn from decomposed organic matter. Sewage sludge, landfill sites and decomposing microbes and algae are the most common sources of biogas. Some wastes come from landfills, where methane gas digested and emitted by bacteria is captured to power up turbines. Currently, there are now 31 US states, maintaining biogas plants that produce methane gas as a renewable source of energy and providing sustainable energy solutions.

    There is also the process known as co-firing, wherein a supplementary fuel from a biomass will be made to combust simultaneously as base fuel, usually coal. The process of co-firing biomass with coal is perceived to be the most economical method of generating green energy for power plants. As such, it is expected to minimize the emissions of carbon dioxide emanating from fossil fuels.

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    Other Positive Changes in the Use of Biofuel as Renewable Source of Energy

    800px-Slag from biomass fire 02 

    Biofuel as a renewable form of energy, costs less and can help us cope with the constant rise in fuel prices. Overwhelming global demand for fossil fuels coupled with political instability in most of the major oil exporting countries are considered as the causes for the unpredictable prices of fuel. Hence, considering the prospect for a broader source of energy such as biofuel will lessen global dependence on imported fossil fuels

    The diversification of agricultural products in developing countries as resources for the production of biofuel, presents an attractive opportunity to provide employment to the farmers and for the development of rural communities all across the globe.

    The Possible Drawbacks of Biofuel as a Sustainable Source of Energy Solution

    Despite the positive promises of changes presented by biofuel production, we must also consider the possible drawbacks:

    • Possibility of less food production as there will be an over-aggressive scenario among developing countries to meet the demand for fuel.
    • Thus, the international market must institute trade and subsidy policies to avoid, if not eliminate such scenario.
    • The necessity for infusion of investments to provide technological innovations in order to meet large-scale biofuel manufacture which can help prevent tendencies to sacrifice food production.
    • The over aggressiveness in producing biofuel will result to rapid depletion of soil nutrients, induce and worsen erosion, degradation of water resources, displacement of habitats to cause disruption in biodiversity as well as threaten the traditional livelihoods of local communities.

    There is a lesson to be learned from the past, man advances through the years with his intelligence yet destroys all that is gained by his greed. Hence, if the drawbacks remain unrestrained, it is likely that we will just go back to where we were before.

    * Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons