Thursday, October 14, 2010

Biofuel: A Solution to our Diminishing Fuel Supply or Unattainable Alternative?

Alexis Stupich 0721741

Almost a third of the world’s energy is used as fuel for transportation vehicles, and the decreasing amount of fuel reservoirs remaining has caused serious uproars among politicians as well as environmentalists. According to Taner and Ayhan Demirbas, the solution to these issues resides in biomass and biofuels. Their hope is that someday biofuels will replace traditional petrol and gasoline used which have detrimental effects of the environment. Biofuels are referred to as a liquid or gaseous fuel that are mostly made of biological material from living or recently living organisms. This biological material is called biomass which is comprised of all vegetable material, and usually consists of materials derived from growing plants and animal manure. Biofuels can be made of many different products including corn stalks, rice straw, pulpwood and even municipal solid waste. The Demirbas have been researching the effectiveness and ways to better convert biological material into usable transportation fuel.

There are many advantages to replacing traditional petroleum fuels with biofuels. For example, bioethanol, the most common biofuel can be made of several common products such as wood, straw and even household wastes. The environmental impact of extracting fuel could be greatly reduced were the majority of people to switch to bioethanol for their transportation fuel needs. Biofuel can be used in transportation vehicles which then emit carbon dioxide as exhaust instead of harmful greenhouse gasses. This cycle is depicted in the diagram below;

Potentially, someday biofuel could supply the demand for transportation fuel for the majority of cars, busses, trains and even airplanes. Converting to sustainable biofuels instead of extracting crude oils would greatly reduce the amount of toxins released into the air; with this in mind one must wonder why the use of biofuels for our transportation needs is not more mainstream. Unfortunately, there are also a few inconveniences associated with the use of biofuel. For example, the production price of biofuel in developed countries is approximately three times greater than that of petroleum fuel. Along with the cost setbacks, there are still several kinks to be worked out in the production of biofuels. The production of biofuels is a relatively new science and therefore the production of biofuels is not nearly as effective as that of traditional transportation fuels which have been around for a far greater period of time. Biofuel production began only in the early 1990’s but didn’t gain popularity or recognition as a potential solution to the world’s transportation fuel crisis until recent years. As the need for a new source of transportation fuel is increasing, the more popularity biofuel is gaining. Along with this popularity is increased scientific innovation to improve the production rates of biofuels. Even with these new technologies converting biomass to biofuels more efficiently than before, it is still no comparison to the efficiency of extracting petroleum. It’s for these reasons that petroleum is still the primary source of transportation fuel. However, there is still hope for future generations; progress is being rapidly made which has in turn increased production capacity and the amount of materials required to produce biofuels.

Solutions to these hurdles that must be overcome before biofuels can begin to replace traditional diesel and petrol are becoming more and more apparent as the demand for more environmentally friendly transportation increases. Biodiesel, another type of transportation fuel created from biomass can be used in any modern diesel engine without modifying the engine. Soon, perhaps all types of biofuels will simply be able to replace our gas needs with no modifications to our vehicles.

Overall, more research is required before the switch from traditional petrol and diesel fuel to biofuel can occur. This switch will result in less consumption of crude oils as well as minimize the amount of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere from transportation vehicles. With such significant and promising outcomes it’s only a matter of time before biofuels replace traditional transportation fuels.

Demirbas, A.H., Demirbas, T. (2010). Bioenergy, green energy; biomass and biofuels. Energy Sources Part A: Recovery, Uitilization & Environmental Effects, 32: 12, 1067-1075

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