The economic crunch which is gripping the world economy has led to the steady climb in the price of petroleum with a decrease in oil reserves the world over. Scientist have now trained their guns on BIOFUELS some of which hold the potential for providing for the energy needs of the world in case of the complete depletion of petroleum reserves. Biofuels are the organic fuels derived from organic material which fixes energy from the sun by utilizing carbon. With the advantage of being environment friendly they are sustainable and thus can be regrown to meet the growing oil needs.
With an eye on the economy utility scientist have outlined the biofuels into two generations. It would now be appropriate to make an assessment of the various sources of biofuels which might be an answer to the looming energy crisis. The sources are arranged on the basis of their importance and feasibility-
The most important biofuel source holding immense potential is Cellulose methanol from cellulose. It is a second generation biofuel. Despite a little technological hurdle associated with breaking down the tough,resilient cellulose polymer into monomeric sugar the sheer abundance in our ecosystem combined with its ability to be continuously harvested and regrown makes it the premier prospective options for biofuels extraction.
A major debate associated with the first generation biofuels is that they are grown over land and thus compete with food crops thus hindering the agricultural industry around the world. One of the novel biofuels which overcomes this specific obstacle is Algal Oil. This is derived from algae such as seaweed and pond scum which usually grow in the water. Moreover the fast rate at which they grow can definitely solve the increasing demand of oil demand. Nearly 50% of the algal organic matter consists of fat which can be converted into oil for utilization. The uncontrollable growth pattern is currently under technological research and is to be used on a commercial basis. By the time the petroleum reserves deplete the technology would be tried and tested to be used on a commercial basis.
Bioethanol produced from CORN and SUGARCANE form a major source of biofuel. But being food crops they pose a major problem. Environmentalists argue that what could have been the food of some species shouldn't be used for the production of fuel as there are other alternatives available. While corn forms the biggest source of bioethanol for the developed countries, sugarcane caters to the needs of the tropical countries like Brazil owing to their greater rate of growth in those geographical locations. Thus countries like Brazil are self sufficient in energy requirements today. Another popular source of biofuel today is SOY. Using a chemical process known as Trans-esterification jet fuel and biodiesel can be produced in an inexpensive and easy method. But the major roadblock is the fact that soybean forms the bulk of the vegetarian diet across the globe. Thus soybean is an important short term solution but not as popular as sugarcane and corn nor provides the amount of resources as algal oil or cellulose methanol.
Biodiesel produced from plants like Jatropha and Camelina which can be grown on very dry soils. Moreover they replenish the fertility of the soil on which they grow and thus pose no significant competition to food crops. However a large amount of their potential hasn't been utilized properly thus decreasing their importance as biofuel. Rapeseed also has the potential for producing biodiesel but the requirement of a large are under cultivation hinders its prospect despite its easy availability in the US and Canada.
Another important source which has been a companion of mankind since the evolution of landfills is Biogas i.e. methane. Many European countries and some Asian countries are already using Biogas in their public transport systems due to the fact that the burning of this gas produces lesser pollutants as compared to other fuels in use. With a variety of changes being required in the engines operating on methane it is economically feasible only for use in public transport systems and unsuitable for public use.
Recent technology also speculates the use of animal and plant fat for the production of green diesel but its use in a variety of other products makes it economically unfeasible for biofuel production.
While paper waste and recycled paper are considered an important source of solid biofuel it may prove to be more problem than solution due to the huge amount of processing it undergoes during its manufacturing process making it the least preferred source of biofuel.
Thus it can be easily inferred that second generation biofuels provide greater respite to this search of economically feasible and environment friendly answer to oil and petroleum.
About Author / Additional Info:
Maitree Baral holds Masters in Bioinformatics and shows profound interest in sharing and discussing various biological issues.