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There are two main types of biofuels — ethanol and biodiesel [1]. The simplest way to distinguish between the two is to remember ethanol is an alcohol and biodiesel is an oil. Ethanol is an alcohol formed by fermentation and can be used as a replacement for, or additive to, gasoline whereas biodiesel is produced by extracting naturally occurring oils from plants and seeds in a process called transesterification.


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Biodiesel can be combusted in diesel engines. Biofuels are grouped by categories - first generation, second generation, and third generation — based on the type of feedstock the input material used to produce them. Biofuels are not as energy dense as conventional transportation fuels. Biofuels are currently the only viable replacement to hydrocarbon transportation fuels. Because biofuels can be used in existing combustion engines, minimal changes to infrastructure are required for their implementation [4] Janaun, J.

Perspectives on biodiesel as a sustainable fuel.

Sustainable Bioenergy: Genomics and Biofuels Development | Learn Science at Scitable

This is their most prominent advantage as concerns about the environmental impacts of fossil fuels continue to rise. In regions that do not have hydrocarbon resources but do have suitable agricultural conditions, biofuels provide an alternative to foreign fuel imports. They also come from a wide variety of sources and therefore can be produced in many regions. Concerns about biofuels are usually centered around the fact that they are an agricultural product [1] Demirbas, A.

Biofuels sources, biofuel policy, biofuel economy and global biofuel projections. One key concern about biofuels is that crops grown for fuel production compete with other natural resources, particularly food and water. First generation biofuels use only edible crops which has led to biofuel crops displacing food sources in some regions.

What is ethanol?

In addition, increased agriculture of any form often comes with concerns of deforestation, water and fertilizer use, which all have their own respective environmental and climate impacts. Environmental and Energy Study Institute.

Are biofuels worse than fossil fuels?

Entrepreneurs seeking to raise funds in a competitive marketplace presented their technology in the best possible light, only to be told by investors in many cases that they needed to think bigger and bolder—thereby raising the bar for the next investment pitch. Propelled by this spiral of hyperbole, expectations and reality eventually diverged. Fast forward to the present, and six precommercial pioneer cellulosic ethanol plants have come on line, providing important opportunities for technology assessment and learning by doing.

Global production of renewable diesel and jet fuel increased by approximately 30 percent last year, according to Alejandro Zamorano of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Still, by any measure, the biofuels landscape today is a pale shadow of what was imagined a decade ago. In , global production capacity for liquid biofuels from cellulosic feedstocks was 4. These figures are dwarfed by the production capacity of first-generation biofuels—98 billion liters for ethanol produced from grains, sugarcane, and sugar beets, and 30 billion liters for biodiesel produced from oil seeds.

Whereas the U. Renewable Fuel Standard foresaw a domestic cellulosic biofuel industry producing 4. The amount of global cellulosic ethanol capacity retired last year exceeded the amount added.

The Problem with Biofuels

Many advanced biofuel startups have failed. Those that have survived are trading well below their initial public offering price; most are focusing primarily on higher-value products other than fuels: Solazyme changed its name to Terravia and is now focused exclusively on food products; Amyris is active in flavors, fragrances, sweeteners, and rubber; and Ceres shifted its emphasis from cellulosic feedstocks to food and feed and was acquired by Land-O-Lakes. Global investment in next-generation biofuels and biochemicals is now more than 50 percent in chemicals rather than fuels, less than a quarter of its peak in Although widely expected circa , a price on carbon did not materialize in most of the world.

The nascent cellulosic biofuels industry was rocked by the global financial crisis. The collapse in oil prices in was the final knockout punch to many efforts in the cellulosic biofuels space. Yet other renewable energy sectors thrived during this period. Between and , global solar investment increased by an order of magnitude, and wind investment more than tripled. During the second half of this decade, the cost of battery energy storage for electric vehicles dropped by about threefold. Photograph by John Sherman. So what has been different about cellulosic biofuels?

Overestimation of technological readiness is part of the answer. There has been a marked tendency, encouraged by both government and private sector investors, to focus on large, expensive, stand-alone facilities rather than niche applications. Amidst frequent claims that economically viable technology was in hand and investment was needed only in scale-up and commercialization, investment in new, potentially low-cost processing paradigms was generally modest. As a result, technological advancement was slower than it might have been, and policies were designed assuming that deployment, rather than technology, was the limiting factor.

In sharp contrast, other renewable energy technologies proceeded in a stepwise fashion, recognized the need for technological advancement and invested accordingly, and benefitted from projects with lower costs and more rapid learning cycles. There is more to it, however.

Its two refineries produce enough biofuel to replace 1. Biofuels have been around longer than cars have, but cheap gasoline and diesel have long kept them on the fringe. Spikes in oil prices, and now global efforts to stave off the worst effects of climate change , have lent new urgency to the search for clean, renewable fuels. Our road travel, flights, and shipping account for nearly a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation today remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels. The idea behind biofuel is to replace traditional fuels with those made from plant material or other feedstocks that are renewable.

Sustainable Bioenergy: Genomics and Biofuels Development

But the concept of using farmland to produce fuel instead of food comes with its own challenges, and solutions that rely on waste or other feedstocks haven't yet been able to compete on price and scale with conventional fuels. Global biofuel output needs to triple by in order to meet the International Energy Agency's targets for sustainable growth.

There are various ways of making biofuels, but they generally use chemical reactions, fermentation, and heat to break down the starches, sugars, and other molecules in plants. The resulting products are then refined to produce a fuel that cars or other vehicles can use. Much of the gasoline in the United States contains one of the most common biofuels: ethanol.

Made by fermenting the sugars from plants such as corn or sugarcane, ethanol contains oxygen that helps a car's engine burn fuel more efficiently, reducing air pollution.