Development and Use of Bio-based Fuels

Bio-fuels have great economic and environmental potential as an alternative to overwhelming reliance on fossil fuels. As a key part of the global agricultural supply chain, Tradelink recognizes this potential use of clean energy generated sustainably from biomass-rich fields. Unlike fossil fuels such as petroleum or coal, bio-fuels are readily replenished. Energy generated from bio-fuels is renewable as well as cleaner.

Historically, humans have been using widely available bio-fuels for a long time. Materials like wood have been burnt to generate heat energy throughout civilization. Biomass was used as the main source of energy until the early 20th century. With better technology we are now able to make efficient use of the same.

Raw materials

Bio-fuels are developed from biomass generated in the agriculture sector using methods such as chemical reactions, fermentation and application of heat, which breaks down the components of the raw materials, which are then refined. The use of some these materials is more economically developed than others:

  • Corn
  • Sugarcane
  • Soybean
  • Oil Palm
  • Wood chips
  • Crop residues
  • Grass
  • Algae
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Waste feedstock
  • Used vegetable oils and animal fats

 Types of bio-fuels

The main types of bio-fuels are

  • Ethanol

It is used mainly in transportation in pure form or by blending with gasoline. Its leading producers are the United States and Brazil which develop it from corn and sugarcane respectively.

  • Bio-diesel

Mostly used in Europe, it is developed from vegetable oils and animal fats. It is used in pure form or blended with diesel to reduce harmful emissions.

  • Green diesel

This bio-fuel is made from algae and other plants.

  • Bio-gas

Bio-gas is methane usually produced from animal waste.

Optimizing the benefits of bio-fuels

Bio-fuels have lesser harmful emissions and can lead to energy security and economic growth. They can be a cost-effective and environmentally friendlier option in a world rapidly facing the consequences of global warming. Yet critics have cautioned about higher costs and food-versus-fuel use of crops leading to hunger. Drastic changes of land use can also lead to loss of habitat and biodiversity.

The way forward with bio-fuels can be paved with careful evaluation of costs-versus-benefits.  Evolving technologies can be applied to optimize benefits and minimize costs.  We need to take into account environmental costs of production in balance to consumption benefits. Different raw materials may have varying potentials of carbon neutrality.

The use of bio-fuels is on the rise in many parts of the world. Its smart application can be aided with government subsidies, tax incentives and new technology such as carbon capture and storage. The key determinant would be its sustainable development leading to a new paradigm of responsible energy use in harmony with the environment.


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