Our industrial world has for so long depended on fossil such as coal, oil, and gas for its energy needs. The problem is that while we have created a world so dependent on this energy source, it will soon run out on us. Fossil fuel is limited and non-renewable. It takes millions of years to convert the organic remains of animals into useable fuel, and it cannot catch up with our demand for it. Fossil fuels are not being produced at a significant amount and as such, it is only a matter of time before we use all of them up.
(Twidell & Weir, 2005, 3) The other downside of using fossil fuel is that it is highly toxic to the environment, giving off greenhouses gases that pollute and choke the earth. As such, the need to consider cleaner and renewable energy sources has never been more important. Among the most promising of these alternative energy sources is biofuel. The term biofuel can be a source of confusion because even fossil fuels are organic in nature, a result of millions of years of decomposition and chemical interactions.
What sets biofuels apart from fossil fuel is that biofuels burn considerably cleaner, without adding any more carbon dioxide and other toxic chemicals to our already suffocating atmosphere. Biofuels are also sustainable, meaning that we have the technology and the means to produce them indefinitely, for as long as we need them. The most common source of biofuels is plants, and a simple process is needed to produce energy. Biofuels have proven that they can replace fossil fuels, and it is hoped that industries will very soon covert to this energy source on a larger scale, slowly but surely moving away from fossil fuels.
This section of our paper will take a closer look at biofuels in the hopes that it does hold the answer to our increasing need for a cleaner and sustainable energy source. History of Biofuel Since man’s earliest unwritten history, we have been using biofuel to make life a little more comfortable. The discovery of fire may very well be considered as the discovery of biofuel as well. However, the world took a different turn when man discovered coal, oil, and gas. The discovery of fossil fuels paved the way for industrialization, where scientists and engineers designing machines built to run exclusively on fossil fuel alone.
The world stopped looking at biofuels for energy, and our world was never the same since then. However, while the world continued to run on fossil fuels, some continued to look for alternative ways to make things run. In the early days of the car industry, engines have been designed to run on biofuel, primarily ethanol. Pioneers such as August Otto, Rudolf Diesel, and Henry Ford all originally designed their engines to use biofuel for energy, a testament to the potency and efficiency of biofuels. As fate would have it, they were all forced to redesign their engines to run on crude oil, which was cheap and abundant at that time.
According to Hayhurst, there were efforts to resurrect industrial biofuel use in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Stations were selling a blend of gas and ethanol and called it “gasohol”, but crude oil was still cheaper, and understandably, especially at the time of the Great Depression, people refused to buy gasohol when there is a more affordable choice. (2003, 29) Biofuel was forced deeper into the backseat when vast reserves discovered in the Middle East made petroleum more affordable. Back then, very little was known about the non-sustainability of fossil fuels and the toxic emissions that they gave off.
But biofuel did not totally vanished; it was there lying dormant in the shadows, waiting for its day in the sun. The conflicts in the Middle East sent prices of petroleum skyrocketing, and the world was shaken. The fuel that everybody thought was cheap and clean and easy to use was starting to exact a high price. Governments began researching for alternatives in the hopes of reducing dependency on fossil fuel and they took to biofuel as the most viable alternative, even replacement. The United States has been slowly easing on fossil fuel use.
In the late 1980’s a law was passed that required all cars to be able to run on fuels with some ethanol. In 1990, the Clean Air Act was amended to give more teeth to policy-makers in so far as cleaner emissions are concerned. The Clean Air Act compelled companies to look to other cleaner sources of energy that would lessen the release of toxic chemicals in the air. Among these alternatives are solar, wind, hydrothermal, nuclear, and biofuel. By the year 2000 there is a renewed interest for biofuels as a viable main energy source because of its marked advantages over fossil fuel.
Compelled by political, economic, and environmental concerns, the United States plans to replace about three-fourths of its imported oil consumption with biofuel within the next twenty years, with the car industry taking the lead. Government funds are being channeled to research in this area, and explore other sources of viable biofuel apart from food crops. The Process At present, the technology of biofuel is intimately associated with biomass, or plant-based organic materials that are capable of producing fuel.
(Lee, 2006, 121) While potentially, any organic material can be used for biofuel, current technologies are proficient in biomass conversion. The most popular type of biofuel is alcohol, a byproduct of sugar fermentation. Biofuel does not have any petroleum content, but can be mixed with fossil fuel with no problem at all. According to Lee, even blends of 20% alcohol and 80% fossil fuel has been shown to greatly decrease greenhouse gas emissions. (2006, 122) Currently, the main sources of biomass are sugars and cellulose and there are three different ways to convert biomass materials into biofuels, namely:
• Thermal/Thermo-chemical • Biological • Chemical The thermal method uses the application of heat to convert biomass into useable fuel. The biological method uses the decomposing action of microorganisms to break down the biomass. The chemical method uses chemical processing to bring about the desired reaction. All of these three methods differ only in the agent used, but all of them are used to produce a chemical reaction that changes the constituency of the biomass into a form that we can use as fuel. (INTUSER project) Biofuel Applications
For the past decade, biofuel has been slowly replacing gas and diesel as fuel for all types of vehicles. Already, more and more biofuel-based cars are coming out of the production line. Most existing vehicle engines can run on biofuel-gas blends with very little modification needed. Some small agricultural communities in third-world countries are using biofuel on a small-scale for their electricity. A large part of what makes biofuel attractive is that a large number of organic materials can be used as source. While presently, plant materials are the primary source of biofuel, animal fat is a potential source as well.
Because the main source comes from food crops such as corn and sugarcane, agricultural countries have the potential to benefit from a biofuel revolution. While big manufacturing industries still use fossil fuel for its production, biofuel-dependent machines are now in the pipeline. The potential for biofuel application is limited only by how far we are willing to use it. Conclusion It has already been proven that biofuel is cleaner, and ultimately cheaper than fossil fuel. There is no question about that. As it stands, we already have the technology to make biofuel a viable alternative to fossil fuel.
What remains to be done is refining the technology and making it more cost-effective to use. An important issue regarding biofuel is the food or fuel dilemma. Currently, the main sources of biomass are corn and sugarcane, and this present a problem whether to plant crops for food or fuel. From a farmer’s perspective, especially from poorer countries, the choice may be between which type produces more profits. (Lovins, 2004, 163) The main challenge now for scientists is to look for other sources of viable biomass for biofuel production so that the choice between food and fuel need not be made.
Indeed a biofuel-driven world looks promising, but we have to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make it possible. For big manufacturing companies, the challenge is for them to take the lead and start investing in biofuel-based machines. While it may be a huge investment and sacrifice, the benefits in the long run are well worth the price. We all need to invest in a cleaner world, and that investment should start today. It is incumbent upon mankind, as stewards of the earth, to give back in kind what the earth has abundantly given us. References Hayhurst, C.
(2003). Biofuel Power of the Future: New Ways of Turning Organic Matter into Energy. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 29. Lee, S. (2006). Encyclopedia of Chemical Processing. CRC Press. p. 121-122. Lovins, A. (2004). Winning the Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs and Security. Earthscan. p. 163. NTUSER project. Information Network on the Technology of Utilisation and Sustainability of Energy Resources. Retrieved on October 21, 2007 from http://www. intuser. net/6/1/renew_37. php Twidell, J. , Weir, A. (2005). Renewable Energy Resources. Taylor & Francis. p. 3.