Biofuel production and sources of biofuel

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What is biofuel, first person used biofuel- Inventor Rudolph diesel 1890s, make biofuel from azolla, algae plant, ethanol, biodiesel, four generations of biofuel

As we all know it is next to impossible to survive without plants and trees, and through this post I will try to drag your attention towards another important contribution given by our nature. 

By the end of this article you will know the importance of biofuel, first person who has used biofuel, making process of biofuel, sources of biofuel, types of biofuel, generations of biofuel.

One can also asked when biofuel was introduced first time? I would say biofuel was first used by Inventor Rudolph diesel it was developed in 1890s.

First engine motor car was run on fuel was run on biofuel, and Mr. Diesel who's name has become very popular and we use diesel, he used biofuel vegetable oil to make automobile and run automobile on that. The term biofuel is mostly used in context of liquor fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, biofuels can also includes solid fuels like wood palates and biogas or sign gas. 

What is Biofuel

A method of producing fuel from plants, vegetables and any fuel that is derived from biomass, that is plant, algae material and animal waste. You must know biofuel is considered to be a source of renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels, such as petroleum, coal and natural gas. Biofuel is commonly advocated as a cost effective and environmental friendly.

A question might come in your mind, what is algae? I should tell you in simple words algae are usually small plants that grow in or near water and do not have ordinary roots or leaves. 

Types of Biofuel

Biofuel are of various types

Gaseous biofuel 

Liquid biofuels

  • Ethanol
  • Biodiesel
  • Green diesel
  • Straight vegetable oil
  • Bioethers 

Two most common types of biofuel in use today-

  • Ethanol 
  • Biodiesel

Both are from first generation biofuel technology

  • Ethanol- Used in engines that burns gasoline, mostly cars.
  • Biodiesel- Used in engines that burn diesel fuel, like trucks and tractors.
  • Biojet Fuels- Used in planes. 


What is Ethanol

Ethanol fuel is the most common biofuel worldwide, particularly in Brazil. It is also known as alcohol fuel. Ethanol can be used in petrol engines as a replacement for gasoline. It can be mixed with gasoline to any percentage. Ethanol is alcohol, that is made from molasses and molasses are produced when sugarcane is send to sugar mills.

Advantage of Ethanol- It has a higher octane rating than ethanol free gasoline available at roadside gas stations, which allows an increase of an engines compression ratio for increase thermal efficiency.   

Ethanol making process- For ethanol corns and sugarcane first harvested and then bacteria are allowed to digest it. This is done under special conditions where oxygen levels are low. This process is fomentation that produces ethanol. 

What is Biodiesel 

Biodiesel is renewable biodegradable fuel manufactured domestically from vegetable oil, animal fats, or recycled restaurant grease. It is a common biofuel in Europe. It is produced from oils or fats using transesterification  

Biodiesel Making Process- For biodiesel the process requires is chemical reactions the most common is called transesterification which is process of breaking down fats catalyzed by methanol    

Have a look

Biofuels are of two types one which is mixed with petrol and sometimes you can purely run your vehicle purely on ethanol, ethanol is alcohol, that is made from molasses and molasses are produced when sugarcane is send to sugar mills then apart from producing sugar the bioproduct is molasses, and molasses when they are distilled they produce alcohol and the same alcohol can be used for mixing with petrol.  

In Brazil there are vehicles that run on various kinds of mixes of petrol and alcohol, sometime you can run on 100 percent of alcohol. 

The other process of making biodiesel is from various plants which are very similar to oil seeds and they make oil. Jetrofa(cactus like plant) is a very common plant that makes oil and from that oil by transesterification diesel is made. 

Top Ten Sources of Biofuel

1. Cellulose  

Cellulose is basically fiber, and can be found in things ranging from switchgrass to trees such as hybrid popular and willow. Corn, stalks after harvest could be used for cellulose fuel. 

2. Algal Oil

As I have already mentioned that algae are grown in water. Algae can store up to 50 percent of body weight in fat, just waiting to be rendered into oil for ethanol production. They also grow amazingly fast, so its a crop that could meet high demands for energy over the long term. Algae grow so fast they overcrowd each other. There is a huge potential because it grow's so fast and it totally depends on you how much oil you can grab from it.     

3. Corn  

Corn ethanol is more sustainable than petroleum. Corn is one of the best options we have available now the only issue is the process is expensive and has high energy consumption rates. The majority of corn ethanol in the United States is produced by dry milling. 

4. Soy

Soy has been a popular biofuel for several years now. In a process called transesterification

Produces the oil from seeds and use it in products such as biodiesel and jet fuel.


5. Sugar Cane

Sugar cane is a developed technology that is already in wide spread use. Sugarcane has great potential as a major feedstock for biofuel production worldwide. It is considered among the best options for producing biofuels today due to an exceptional biomass production capacity, high carbohydrate (sugar+fiber) content, and a favorable energy input/output ratio.

6. Camelina and Jatropha

Camelina and Jatropha are both plant based fuel sources that are found all over the world. These plants have an advantage over other seed based fuel like soy because they can be grown in very dry areas. Jatropha has the added benefit of making even poor soil more fertile over the time.

7. Rapeseed 

rapeseed plant

It is also known as canola oil, rapeseed oil is rendered from a plant, mostly found in Canada. Similar to soy it is cheap and easy to produce. Rapeseed oil is the main source of quality biodiesel which is important platform chemicals produced by the oleochemical industry. The process of rapeseed oil preparation consist of seed cleaning, preconditioning, flaking, cooking, screw pressing, solvent extraction, desolventizing, distillation and degumming.    

Transesterification is the best way to obtain biodiesel because it is well known and cheap process which gives less problem for the engines than another methods. 

8. Animal Fat

Fat from animal food product can be rendered into oil and then used as a fuel for cars and trucks. Animal fat is used in many industrial products so there would be coopetition for resources.  

9. Methane

Methane is produced by the process of anaerobic digestion of organic material by anaerobes. It can be produced either from biodegradable waste waste materials or by the use of energy crops fed into anaerobic digesters to supplement gas yields. Microorganisms decomposing organic matter like food, compost and other landfill materials create methane, so it is already being produced in dumps around the world. The gas also burns cleaner than many of the fuels.  

10. Kale

Kale had a foodie trend moment, but it's not just a powerful antioxidant used in salads and smoothies. It's actually a vegetable that produces a powerful biogas yield. Kale can be turned into a kind of bio crude that can be further refined into a biofuel. 


First Generation Biofuels

First Generation biofuels are produced directly from food crops by abstracting the oils for use in biodiesel or producing bioethanol through fermentation. 


Second Generation Biofuels

Second Generation biofuels are produced from non food crops such as wood, organic waste, food crop waste and specific biomass crops.  Second generation biofuels have been developed to overcome the limitations of first generation biofuels


Third Generation Biofuels

Third Generation biofuels are produced from engineered energy crops such as algae . The algae are cultured to act as low cost high energy, and entirely renewable feedstock. 

4th Generation Biofuel

algae near lake

The third and fourth generations of biofuel production involve "algae to biofuels" technology.    

Lets have a look

Ethanol- can be made by corn, sugarcane, sugar beet, wheat grass, and inedible parts of most plants.

Biodiesel- can be made from Jetropha (cactus like plant), camelina (flowering plant), soybeans, rapeseed, canola oil, palm oil, peanut oil, vegetable oil, animal fat, algae oil 

Today biomass is used to produce biofuels that are used together biofuels or even replace them. 

About 25 gallons of ethanol are made each year as fuel, and each year about 1 billion gallons of biodiesels are produced.  

What are the advantages of biofuel?

Eventually we throw away everything we have harvested. It still can be converted to fuels. We already got our value out of it. Now it’s a choice of dumping with methane and pollution or waste recycling to recover usable hydrocarbon replacements of fossils and the rare materials we need

Waste recycling solves all these problems and more. Pyrolysis and gasification type system are able to create charcoal, liquid hydrocarbon fuels and gas fuels from mixed wastes. The Fischer process can create just about any hydrocarbon you need

In an all renewable system, fuels from waste recycling is carbon neutral. If clean agri waste is converted to biochar it’s massively carbon negative and doubles the productivity of poor soils. There are enough poor soils in the world that would benefit from biochar, to absorb all the excess co2 human fossils burning has put in the air. This is hard for some people to believe or understand, because clearly the use of the fuels from waste recycling emits co2. Without fossils use, that waste must come from things we harvested that absorbed that co2 while growing. Dumping emits methane, even when they try to capture it, only a fraction is captured even when they try. This is far more GHG than converting it to hydrocarbons even when they are eventually burned. Dumps are a major world source of methane.

How can we make biofuel from azolla?

About 35% of Azolla is hemicellulose and cellulose while another 15% is constituted by lignin, all common plant components. If you place the azolla into a ball mill and spin it for 30 minutes, you will break down all its components into sugars, lignin and some residual plant chemicals. The sugars will be monomers of hexose or pentose sugars such as glucose, or galactose. You can flush the ball mill with water, dissolve the sugars, float the lignin and recover the clay catalyst for the next batch. The sugary water can be fermented by ethnogeny bugs, similar to those that make wine, and the resulting ethanol can be distilled from the ferment, the heat being provided by the lignin which has the same BTU content per unit weight as coal.

What is preventing biodiesel algae from being cost effective

There are some important limitations to algal biofuel production that are not often discussed fully. I 'll try to do it quickly.

Photosynthetic algae need carbon dioxide, water and light in order to grow. If you grow algae in open pool than lot of water will be lost due to evaporation. Moreover its best to grow them in shallower pools so that more of the algae have direct access to sunlight most of the time. However, this increase the surface area of the pool and further increases evaporation loss. 

As a result of these problems, many companies are now trying to grow algae for biofuels in transparent, closed containers like plastic bags or tubes.

Using a closed system means that you need to inject CO2 into the system and you need to work in small enough volumes that sunlight penetrates most of the container. This add a lot of logistic complication to the process as you need to manage many, relatively small growth chambers. Moreover, even in sealed containers you still need to have strong enough mixing (usually from the bubbling mechanism) that most of the algae see light. In other words: relatively high logistical and electricity costs. You also want to work near an abundant source of concentrated CO2 (i.e. power plant) which can limit flexibility in planning algal biofuel "farms."


Biofuels are important because

Fossil fuel is something we have been using for a very long time, but biofuel gained popularity relatively late. The reason for the interest in biofuel is this. The demand for energy requirement is increasingly growing day by day. It is difficult to reach the world energy demand only by using fossil fuel. Therefore, a greater attention is drawn towards alternative energy sources. Biofuel is one of the most alternative energy sources, which can be used to satisfy our energy requirement.


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