The Concept of Biofuels

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There are two main threats faced by our planet today as they are directly impacting the future of humans and animals of the planet. These threats are known as air pollution and global warming. The rising prices and decreasing resources of conventional energy sources are also the threat to economic development and political stability of the planet. The air pollution indoor and outdoor is the sixth largest cause of deaths in the world number over 2.4 million premature deaths in the world (Jacobson, 2009). Fossil fuels are non-renewable sources and are contributing significantly to world energy supply. Their usage has created environmental and political concerns. It is estimated that almost 98% of carbon emission results from the fossil fuel combustion. Heat stress, disease, the severity of storms and acidity in oceans is increased as a direct result of the global warming. The global warming and increased emission of carbon shifts viable agriculture and harms the ecosystems. The water supplys magnitude and timing are also changed as the result of the global warming (Jacobson, 2009).

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Despite the increasing problems due to energy consumption, the energy demand of the planet is also increasing. There is a rapid increase in the industries and vehicles due to the population explosion. The sources of the energy are petroleum, natural gas, and hydrocarbons. The petroleum diesel which is heavily used in the industries and transportation emits a number of greenhouse gases. In addition to the carbon emission, the petroleum diesel also contributes to the emission of SOx, CO, and other volatile organic compounds. These factors make it necessary to address the issue of global warming and carbon emissions from the industries and vehicles (Jacobson, 2009).

The concept of biofuels is not a new concept. The first biofuel using vegetable oil as the replacement of the conventional diesel was introduced in the year 1911 (Jacobson, 2009). It is estimated that the use of biofuels in comparison to the conventional fossil fuels might reduce the carbon and hydrocarbon emissions. For a sustainable future growth, it is necessary to reduce almost 80% of present carbon and hydrocarbon emissions. In this paper, the different sources of biofuels are evaluated with their impacts on the hydrocarbon emissions. The review also addresses the issues of social implications of the biofuels and controversies associated with the development of the fossil fuels. Costs associated with the use of bio-fuels and their implications are also discussed in the literature of the current paper.

b) Literature Review

There are different sources and methods that can be applied to produce the biodiesel. These sources and methods include direct use, blending, microemulsion process, thermal cracking process and the most commonly used technique known transesterification. This method is adopted widely due to the easiness and the process can be carried out in the normal conditions. The quality of the converted fuel is also better as compared to the other methods used for the synthesis of biodiesel (Gashaw, Getachaw, & Teshita, 2015).

The direct use of vegetable oils as an alternative to the conventional diesel is not favorable. The use of vegetable as a direct fuel is very problematic. The vegetable oils have intrinsic properties which make them similar to the diesel but they require certain chemical modification before they can be used as a direct source of fuel. Some diesel engines can run directly on the fossil fuels but the engines which use turbo charge experience some problems. The vegetable oils in comparison to the conventional diesel have the high viscosity (Teshita, 2015).

The problems of high-viscosity were resolved by the introduction of micro-emulsions. The solvents such as ethanol, methanol and 1-butanol were used as solvents in order to reduce the viscosity of the fossil fuels. The microemulsions can improve the spray properties of the biodiesel by rapid vaporization of the solvents. Thus microemulsions result in the low-viscosity and an increase in the cetane number of the biodiesel. The repeated use of the microemulsion fuels in the diesel engines caused problems like injector needle sticking, depositing of the carbon and incomplete combustion (Teshita, 2015).

The most common and easiest way to produce the biodiesel is the transesterification method. In this method a catalyst is used in the chemical reaction of vegetable oil and alcohol to produce the biodiesel. The common catalyst used is a strong base such sodium or potassium hydroxide. The process results in the changes of viscosity of the vegetable oil. The product has viscosity like fossil fuels. There are several factors which affect the production of the biodiesel as biofuel. Temperature is the most important factor among them. It is required to keep the temperature under normal conditions which is room temperature 250C (Teshita, 2015).

In the world today, a large global campaign is going on to include the different raw materials such as sugar cane, soybeans and sugar beets as raw materials for fossil fuels. The presentation of the biofuels as the perfect alternate for petroleum derivatives has been the focus of many studies conducted worldwide. The driving force behind this worldwide exploration is the reduction of environment concerns raised by the use fossil fuels. The use of wood as an alternative source of energy has been studied and its results for the reduction of fossil fuel carbon emissions are studied (Teshita, 2015).


There is a significant variation in emission reduction of the fossil fuels using different feedstock and processing alternatives. The production of ethanol from the process of gasification reduced the emission to almost 74% (Lippke, Puettmann, Johnson, Gustafson, Venditti, Steele & Caputo, 2012). When ethanol is prepared by the fermentation of willow the emission was reduced to almost 120%. The reductions greater than 100 percent are achieved when part of woody feedstock is used for the generation of the electricity required for the process. The gasification process requires more quantity of wood to offset fossil fuels for collection and processing submissions. It shows that the amount of reduction is dependent on the amount of wood used rather than the way it is used (Caputo, 2012).

Production of oil from the process pyrolysis of the whole tree thinning reduced the emission from fossil fuel to almost 70% in the US Southeast (Caputo, 2012). The mechanisms used for the reduction of emissions and production of alternate biofuels exceeded the threshold placed by the EPA of 60% (Caputo, 2012).The conversion process from woody feedstocks to ethanol using the process of gasification and fermentation results in less carbon reduction efficiency as compared to biofuel produced through pyrolysis. The reduction efficiency of converting the woody feedstocks to bio-oils and then to biofuel to be used as a substitute for gasoline may be lower than producing bio-oils (Caputo, 2012).

One of the most used justifications which are used for the adoption of biofuels as an alternate source of energy is the anticipated benefits to the environment from the replacement of fossil fuels. The combustion of fossil fuels results in the emission of carbon dioxide and gases known as Green House Gases (GHG) (German, Schoneveld, & Pacheco, 2011). The promise made by the use of biofuels is a greener energy for the transportation. This promise has resulted in the inclusion of biofuels as alternative sources of energy targets in many industrial countries like the United States. Along with the US other interesting parties include EU and several developing countries including Brazil. Some of the researches in the area suggest that the land usage directly or indirectly for the use of bio-fuels can negate the emission of GHG and estimated climatic benefits (Pacheco, 2011).

Considering the above-mentioned factors there is an increase in the recognizing the climatic effects of biofuels must include the full life cycle. The full life cycle includes the production, distribution and consumption of the biofuels. The lifecycle also includes the direct and indirect land usage for the production of the biofuels. The environmental debate mainly focuses on the issue of the climatic change. The other environmental factor associated with the use of biofuels must be taken into consideration. Some people claim that the cultivation of biofuel feedstocks on the land which could not be cultivated can make these lands productive and thus increase the forest conversion (Pacheco, 2011).

In the 1990s it was estimated that almost 500 million hectares of uncultivated land are available for cultivation. Out of this 100 million hectares of land was in Latin America, 100 million in Asia and 300 million hectares were in Africa. In Indonesia, 27 million hectares of deforested land has been identified for the cultivation of palm oils (Pacheco, 2011). In Indonesia however, many papers and pulp companies have managed to deforest large areas of forest under the guise of palm oil cultivation. Some of this development used timber finances to make it happen, however, there was no plantation of palm oil in some of the cases or any rural development in the areas. Some of the researchers have focused on quantifying the impacts of biofuel feed stock expansion on the forest already present. According to a research, it was estimated that between 1995 and 2005 55% to 59% of palm oil cultivation in Malaysia and almost 59% of the palm oil cultivation in Indonesia was at the expense of the forests (Pacheco, 2011).

The debate on the social and economic impacts of biofuels focuses on the two key issues. These issues are the ability of biofuels acting as a stimulus to the rural and secondly its effect on access and control of land, and food security. A number of multiple purpose feedstocks have been identified as beneficial for the rural economic development. Under the correct conditions, the biofuels can generate financial profits, increase in the value of land, employment, improvement in the infrastructure and income from smallholder cultivation. Soybean cultivation has proved to be beneficial for the landowners and produced several critical economic multipliers in the downstream food industry. One of the primary benefits yielded from the cultivation of feedstocks is the employment of the people. The oil palm industry in Indonesia and Malaysia employs 0.08 to 0.5 persons per hector (Pacheco, 2011).

The biofuels have a place in the strategy for renewable energy sources at a global level. Currently, they supply over 10% of the total energy use at a global level. The liquid biofuels only contribute 0.4% of global energy. Most of the time as in past the biofuels' usage is dominated by direct combustion as it is in the case of wood. In recent times, much of the concentration is given to the production of the liquid biofuels. The government of United Kingdom concluded in a report that by the end of the year 2020 will meet only 2% of global energy needs. Using ethanol as an alternative fuel for transportation is not a smart idea as other biofuels show greater efficiency. From a realistic prospective the using of biofuels for transportation is not the best choice. However, it can be seen that biofuels reduce emission of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases considerably as compared to fossil fuels. The biofuels can play their part in the energy future of the world but they can never be a replacement for the fossil fuels (Zhang, 2012).


Gashaw, A., Getachaw, T., & Teshita, A. (2015). A Review on Biodiesel Production as Alternati...

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