Clean Tech 101

Biofuel vs Oil

Biofuel is derived from biological materials like solid biomass, liquid fuels and biogases. Biofuels are of two types, namely, biodiesel and bioethanol. Owing to the increased energy security needs and oil price hikes, biofuels are now gaining attention of public. Bioethanol is produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates produced in starch crops or sugar. 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. It is refined and separated into large number of products like gasoline, kerosene, asphalt and other reagents based on the boiling point. However, the use of crude oil may affect the environment upon the release of greenhouse gases and pollutants into the air thereby damaging the ecosystems through oil spills.

Biofuel as an Energy Source

Biofuels have gained significant attention during the recent times more specifically due to the over-dependence on fossil fuels. Biodiesel is produced by hydrogenating growing crops containing large amount of natural oil followed by refining. A more compatible biodiesel thus produced can 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 for several purposes, the main use of biofuel is in the transportation sector as it can be easily pumped and handled in vehicles. For other non-transportation applications, biofuels can be used as solid biomass fuel as they can easily withstand low power density of external combustion.

The pros and cons of biofuels are described in detail below:

The Pros

  • It is inexpensive when compared to fossil fuels. An increase in the price of fossil fuel will in turn lower the cost of biofuel.
  • It is a renewable energy source. The chances of the running out of biofuel supply is very less when compared to the depleting fossil fuels.
  • It is a clean source of energy and is produced in an eco-friendly manner. It causes less pollution when compared to the burning of fossil fuels. In addition, it consumes materials that are considered as wastes and thus ensuring green environment.
  • It can be produced using domestic resources available in areas where there are abundant crops, thereby reducing the dependence on foreign resources.
  • As the biofuel can be pumped easily, it ensures good performance of the engine when compared to fossil fuels.

The Cons

  • It can emit nitrogen dioxide to air, which is one of the major components of smog.
  • Some biofuels are required to be mixed with gasoline in order to be used in vehicles.
  • It requires large tracts of land to be produced in large amounts.
  • Certain biofuels are not compatible with existing cars, older models in particular.

Crude Oil as an Energy Source

Oil is a kind of fossil fuel occurring in nature and deposited beneath the surface of earth. It produces energy by means of combustion for the generation of heat. All fossil fuels are generally non-renewable, which means that it will run out soon. Energy from the fossil fuels like oil had been the major energy source ever since the starting of industrial revolution. However, energy is generated from oil by direct combustion process and the major drawback is the release of byproducts of combustion, which drastically affects the environment.

The pros and cons of crude oil are listed below:

The Pros

  • It is impossible for any other energy source to increase the speed of the vehicle like crude oil.
  • It creates several jobs.

The Cons

  • It releases CO2 and other toxic substances upon burning and pollute the environment.
  • It is non-renewable.
  • Burning oil in turn releases greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
  • Leakage of oil during extraction may affect the wild life and biodiversity of that region. It takes several years to clean up the oil spills.
  • Oil drilling is unpredictable as it takes a longer time to search for oil.
  • Oil extraction from sand consumes more water.
  • It is dangerous and expensive to transport oil.
  • In order to extract oil both onshore and offshore, oil companies must build big oil rigs, which is again expensive and consume more space.

Conclusion

Although biodiesel is cleaner, renewable, and easy to manufacture, unlike crude oil, our dependence on fossil fuel still cannot be restricted in practical. This is due to the fact that there is not enough farmland on the earth for growing biofuel crops that yield enough fuel to replace oil. It was estimated that even with the help of 1000 barrels from each square mile of crops and from every inch of arable farm land allotted for growing biofuel crops across the globe, it would be possible to obtain only 20% of the current total consumption of oil globally. Meanwhile, the amount of suitable farm land decreases with the continuous increase of oil consumption.

However, the world’s crude oil supplies are soon going to run out with an exponential rise in the consumption of fossil fuel for the last two decades. Hence, the biofuel technology needs continuous development to replace the depleting fossil fuels as this technology is still young and under research. Until the day when all fossil fuels are exhausted, we will always depend on them with a hope that biofuel will be an efficient alternate fuel within the next 20 years.

References

Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.

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