Biofuels 101 – with some easy to understand links | 27/01/2014
by John Brian Shannon
Plant-based fuels (biofuels) are an excellent feedstock for the conventional petroleum industry as they can fill voids in the supply chain and as a bonus, biofuels feature dramatically lower carbon content/CO2 emissions.
When biofuel is blended 50/50 with conventional petroleum fuels, significantly lower CO2 emissions result as aircraft maker Boeing has proven in its trials of 50/50 blended biofuels in Boeing aircraft.
Boeing reports CO2 emissions dropped between 65%-80% when using blended fuel in their SBRPT programme.
It must be recognized that there are some downsides to biofuels and number one on that list is the type of crop that is being used to produce biofuel.
Growing corn for biofuel on prime land, displaces land that could be used to grow food crops which could be a problem in the world’s breadbasket (the U.S.A.) where millions of hectares of food crops are grown.
“…producing ethanol from sugarcane is six times less expensive than producing ethanol from corn. Growing sugarcane requires fewer chemicals, including pesticides and fertilizers.” — How Stuff Works
Some crops are natural biofuel superstars, while some require millions or billions of dollars of subsidies in order to compete in the market.
Corn is a 1st-generation biofuel crop — and of all the biofuel crops it uses the most water and fertilizer by a significant margin, and it also requires the most land management.
For 2nd-generation biofuel crops such as camelina, castor, jatropha and millettia, these bountiful crops produce excellent returns with minimal infrastructure, pesticides and fertilizer.
Not only do these plants use much less water and fertilizer than corn, they can tolerate semi-arid conditions and they grow readily in sub-prime soils. Now is the time to begin switching to 2nd-generation biofuel crops.
And right behind that are 3rd-generation biofuel from algae, or from enzymes and biomass.
Some countries have decided that biofuels belong in their future and have set thousands or even millions of hectares aside for biofuel crop agriculture.
Indonesia, India, China and other countries are growing 2nd-generation biofuel crops and reaping much better returns than heavily-subsidized U.S. corn ethanol.
Such 2nd-generation biofuels provide work for thousands of farm labourers, much-needed income for farmers in developing nations, and adds to GDP and lowers demand on proved oil reserves. And a low level of technology is required to grow, harvest and process biofuels.
“Biodiesel growth from non-food feedstocks is gaining traction around the world.
For example, China recently set aside an area the size of England to produce jatropha and other non-food plants for biodiesel.
India has up to 60 million hectares of non-arable land available to produce jatropha, and intends to replace 20 percent of diesel fuels with jatropha-based biodiesel.
In Brazil and Africa, there are significant programs underway dedicated to producing non-food crops jatropha and castor for biodiesel.” — Biodiesel 2020 – 2nd Edition by Will Thurmond
No one is saying that biofuels are the entire solution to our liquid energy needs, but 2nd generation and 3rd-generation biofuels can be an important part of the solution while lowering overall CO2 emissions.