Biofuel is derived from biological materials like solid biomass, liquid fuels, and biogases. Biofuels are of two types, namely, biodiesel and bioethanol.
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Article updated on 21/01/20 by Susha Cheriyedath
Owing to the increased energy security needs and oil price hikes, biofuels are now gaining more attention. Bioethanol is produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates produced in starch crops or sugar, while biodiesel is made from animal fats and vegetable oils.
Crude oil, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring flammable liquid consisting of complex mixtures of hydrocarbons and other organic compounds. It is mostly recovered through oil drilling and is refined and separated into products like gasoline, kerosene, asphalt, and other reagents based on their boiling point. However, the use of crude oil affects the environment due to the release of greenhouse gases and pollutants thereby damaging the ecosystem.
Biofuel as an Energy Source
Biofuels have gained significant attention during recent times specifically due to our over-dependence on fossil fuels. Biodiesel is produced by hydrogenating growing crops containing large amounts of natural oil followed by refining. It can then be mixed with mineral diesel for use in diesel-powered automobiles. Similarly, biopetrol can be produced by fermenting crops like sugar cane and mixed with petrol to create a hybrid biofuel for petrol-powered vehicles.
Although biofuels can be used in several applications, the main use of biofuel is in the transportation sector as it can be easily pumped and handled in vehicles. For non-transportation applications, biofuels can be used as solid biomass fuel as they can easily withstand a low power density of external combustion.
The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is working with industries to develop advanced biofuels from non-food resources such as cellulose and algae. BETO has been investing in several advanced biofuel production technologies over the last decade.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Benefits of biofuels
- Inexpensive when compared to fossil fuels
- Renewable A renewable energy source that is produced in an eco-friendly manner
- Helps in waste management
- Can be produced using domestic resources available in areas where there are abundant crops, thereby reducing the dependence on foreign resources
Drawbacks of biofuels
- Can emit nitrogen dioxide to the air, which is one of the major components of smog
- Some biofuels are required to be mixed with gasoline to be used in vehicles
- Large areas of land are needed to produce biofuels in large amounts
- Certain biofuels are not compatible with existing cars, older models in particular
Crude Oil as an Energy Source
Crude oil is a fossil fuel occurring in nature, deposited beneath the surface of the earth. It produces energy utilizing combustion for the generation of heat. All fossil fuels are generally non-renewable, which means we will run out of these fuels soon. Fossil fuels, like oil, had been the major energy source ever since the start of the industrial revolution. However, the direct combustion process used to generate energy from oil releases byproducts that drastically affect the environment.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Benefits of crude oil
Crude oil provides optimum speed to vehicles
It provides reliable, high-density energy and creates jobs
Drawbacks of crude oil
Releases CO2 and other toxic substances upon burning pollutes the environment and contributes to global warming
It is non-renewable
Leakage of oil during extraction affects the wildlife and biodiversity of that region. It takes several years to clean up oil spills.
Oil extraction from sand consumes a lot of water
It is dangerous and expensive to transport oil
To extract oil both onshore and offshore, oil companies must build big oil rigs, which is expensive and consumes more space
Although biodiesel is cleaner, renewable, and easy to manufacture, our dependence on fossil fuels still cannot be completely avoided because of the scarcity of farmland for growing biofuel crops that can yield enough fuel to replace oil.
However, the world’s crude oil supplies will be exhausted soon thanks to the exponential increase in consumption of fossil fuels in the last two decades. Hence, the biofuel technology needs continuous development to replace the depleting fossil fuels. Until the day when all fossil fuels are exhausted, we will always depend on them with the hope that biofuel will become an efficient and viable alternative fuel within the next twenty years.
References and Further Reading