By the next twenty years, the USA and the European Union want to increase their usage of biofuels and other renewable energy sources by about 30% in their transport needs. This aims to improve energy security, decrease carbon dioxide emissions and provide an opportunity for bio-fuels providers. They can be categorized by being first-generation biomass fuels and second-generation biomass fuels. (S&T, 2007)
First-generation biomass fuels
Most first-generation biomass fuels have been adopted from various industrial adopted processes of converting agricultural and food processing raw materials. The raw-material encompass starch, vegetable oils and sugars which are available as a surplus of food demand. The potentiality of the first generation biomass fuels to contribute to renewable fuels is limited by various factors like climate, crop ranges and the need for nutritional balances of current and future generations (S&T, 2007).
One type of first-generation biomass fuel is vegetable oil. They contain fatty acids and glycerides, which are primarily produced by the seeds of plants. It may sometimes be utilized as a fuel source for non-modified diesel engines. Its immediate offset is that low temperatures may cause the oil to congeal, hence clogging the engine mechanisms. Modified diesel engines have been mechanisms to avoid this but this technology has not been used on the large scale, and this makes the costs to consumers higher than other fuels.
Another type is bio-diesel. This involves converting vegetable oils to biodiesel. It can be used in any diesel engine with little or without any modification. The process of making biodiesel involves the reaction of methanol with vegetable oils whose end products are glycerin and methyl esters. It may also be made by the use of diesel in diluting vegetable oils and through a microemulsion system. It is a commonly used bio-fuel and its global production levels are about 2.7 billion litres annually.
Another type of bio-fuel is bio-ethanol. It is produced by the fermentation of simple sugars from biomass. In 2005, the global production of bioethanol was about 36 billion litres with Brazil dominating the production of bioethanol (S&T, 2007).
Ethyl tertiary-butyl ether commonly referred to as ETbE is a fuel-oxygenate used in gasoline. It is produced by mixing bio-ethanol and isobutylene with the help of a catalyst. The dissimilarity between ethanol and EtbE is that ETbE is water-soluble so it does not cause water contamination. There is also a commercial option for bio-fuel production in bio-oil. It is produced through thermo-chemical biomass processing.
Also in transportation biogas can be used in fuels modified so that they can use compressed natural gas. But hydrogen and carbon dioxide will need to be removed from the biogas. It is produced by the fermentation of organic waste. It is used as a fuel and many cars especially in Sweden use biogas for fuel (UN-ENERGY, 2007).
Second generation biomass fuels
There are produced from non-food materials. They can be used in the existing technologies and infrastructure with minimum modifications (RUSSI, 2007).
One fuel that falls into the scope of second-generation biomass fuels is methanol. It is produced from syngas. Although most of it today is got from natural gas. It has a high octane number but low energy levels. It may be used as a stand-alone fuel but significant research and infrastructural changes need to be addressed. It is believed by many scientists to be a potential hydrogen source for transportation needs in the future (BINDRABAN, 2006).
Another biofuel is biopsy diesel. It is produced on the basis of syngas made from coal. It is also known as Fischer-Tropsch diesel or commonly as FT diesel. Its production involves the FT synthesis process (BARRACLOUGH, 2000).
Another second-generation biomass fuel is dimethyl ether (DME). At ambient conditions, it is in gaseous form and is liquefied by moderate pressure. It is ideal for diesel engine fueling because it cleanly burns without producing particulates. It is thus favoured by vehicle producers as a diesel substitute ((S&T, 2007)).
Benefits of renewable fuels
Although renewable fuels when burned can pollute the air, the degree of pollution cannot be compared to that of fossil fuels. It does not produce sulfur which is responsible for causing acid rains when burned. Instead, it produces carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas. These emissions are also used up in photosynthesis when biomass crops are grown. In contrast to fossil fuels, when burned the fossil fuels emit dangerous gases and have been linked to the causes of acid rains (KOJIMA, 2005).
Renewable fuels also have the benefit of ensuring the world of continued transport services. This is also known as fuel security. One dilemma facing today’s transport industry is that nobody can rightfully say when fossil fuels will be exhausted. Most of the world countries do not mine oil and so rely on imports. The economic strain of some countries results in them buying oil that cannot meet the energy needs of the country. With the advancement of renewable energy sources, the dependence on petroleum could end and this would be beneficial economically for many countries (RUSSI, 2007).
Biofuels are also economically viable for many countries. Oil imports deal a great blow to the many economies of the world and can account for a significant amount of trade deficits in countries worldwide. Since most countries do not also produce their own petroleum, it leaves those countries vulnerable to a price hike by oil-producing nations. If the countries develop a stronger internal market for internally produced biofuels could help in alleviating many economic hardships in the world economies. Domestically produced biofuels will also create many job opportunities for the residents of the various countries (UN-ENERGY, 2007).
Advantages of biofuels to the Environment
The transportation sectors of many developed countries like the United States of America and many European countries are major contributors to a large extent of environmental problems. This is because the transport sector is dependent on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are hazardous to the environment from the point of extraction to their use in engines. Using biofuels instead of fossil fuels helps in the provision of solutions to many environmental predicaments (S&T, 2007).
Global Climate Change
A case study of the U.S. transportation sector reveals that the sector is responsible for a third of the entire country’s carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide is considered to be a greenhouse gas and its buildup eventually leads to global climate change. Most of these emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels. The production and usage of biofuels in the transportation sector reduce the usage of fossil fuels which are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emissions. The carbon dioxide emitted will be used by the plants during photosynthesis. These plants will be used as the raw materials of the biofuels (RUSSI, 2007).
Developed countries also suffer from air pollution. In the last decades, these governments have been trying to improve the air quality of the polluted industrial areas. Some biofuels have been used successfully as oxygenate additives in various other fossil fuels and this reduces emissions from vehicles. We can anticipate positive changes in the air quality in the future if biofuels are adapted as the fuels for most types of engines and the gasoline engines done away with. These biofuels can be used in either conventional internal combustion engines or used in technologies that will oversee the invention of the new clean vehicle using biofuels (UN-ENERGY, 2007.).
Marine oil spills, groundwater contamination are some of the water pollutions associated with the use of fossil fuels. Biofuels can easily replace the toxic parts of gasoline with the provision of fuels that biodegrade in water fast. This will ensure the reduction of risk that is posed by gasoline to waterways and groundwater. The spills and leakages of biofuels do not pose a risk to the environment in any way (HAZELL, 2006).
The rate at which the landfills in developing countries are filling almost to capacity is disturbing. The rate at which waste is being produced is very alarming. As the waste production increases and as the landfills continue to be almost filled, the more expensive waste disposal is. It is important to note that the sectors of forestry and agriculture produce a huge amount of waste. This waste can be used in the production of biofuel which means that there will be less waste and eventually the benefit of reduced cost of waste disposal (ROSEGRANT, 2006).
Disadvantages of biofuels to the environment
While biofuels or renewable sources of energy have a huge list of benefits to the environment, it also has a flip side in that it has disadvantages as well. Some of the disadvantages include:
Environmentalists have the fear that with the advancement of the biofuel industries, there would be a need for more land being used for the production of crops which would be used in the production of biofuels. This will in turn result in many habitats of animals and wild plants being lost so that the biofuel producing plants can have the land acreage needed (RUSSI, 2007).
Food versus fuel debate
There is also the concern that the advancement of biofuels technology, will end being very lucrative for farmers. They will in return disregard the production of food crops and start growing plants for biofuels production only. This will result in a chain reaction where the prices of food will rise and the end result will be high inflation rates. There are hopes though that this can be countered by the use of second generations biofuels but then this will also result in great rates of biodiversity. The effect of food versus fuel will be felt most in developing countries where already millions of people are at risk of starvation due to high prices of food (COURTNEY, 2006).
Most scientific researches reveal that biofuels usage reduces greenhouse gas emission significantly when compared to the burning of fossil fuels. However, in 2007, a scientist from Europe and America published studies that reported that the burning of certain fuels from certain plants produced as many dangerous emissions as fossil fuel burning. The plants included corn and rapeseed(RUSSI, 2007).
Non-Sustainable fuel production
It is not a hundred per cent sure that the production of first-generation biofuels is sustainable. It is also important to highlight the importance of coming up with means of producing sustainable biofuels without interfering with food production and that does not have environmental implications (VON BRAUN, 2006).
Biofuels are riddled with dilemmas of whether or not they are really worthwhile and if they are right for the environment. It is a fact that they massively reduce carbon emissions and are cost-effective but on the other hand, they pose the threat of food security and food prices are shooting leading to high inflation rates and also it is important to put into consideration how they could negatively affect the habitat of many species(VON BRAUN, 2006).
But when the arrival of the second and third generation alternatives comes up with the solutions that are now leaving many people bewildered about the biofuels technology advancement, they will probably lead to more efficient production and also lead to a diversification of the plants and plants wastes so as to limit the danger poised to any habitat.
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