What are biofuels, advantages and disadvantages

Currently, alternatives to conventional energy sources are becoming increasingly fashionable due to the amount of adverse effects they have on the planet. One of these alternative sources is biofuels, which already seems to carry a positive meaning in this field in its name.

What are biofuels

The biofuel , or also called biofuels , are mixtures of substances of organic origin used as fuel for energy production. They derive from biomass , that is, from organic matter that originates and accumulates during biological processes such as photosynthesis.

The advantage of biofuels is that, in addition to being able to replace part of the consumption of fossil fuels, they reduce the impact produced by them, such as the levels of CO2 that are emitted into the atmosphere through their combustion. Actually, the CO2 emission is the same in both, the difference is that in the production and development process the materials that will produce the biomass for biofuels absorb this CO2 produced.

To obtain biofuels, various plant species are used, such as:

  • The soy.
  • The corn.
  • Sugarcane.
  • Cassava.
  • Sunflower.
  • Eucalyptus
  • The Palm trees.
  • The pines.
  • Seaweed oil.
Classification and examples of biofuels

The biofuels can be classified into three groups depending on the raw material used and the production process: biofuels first, second and third generation.

  • First generation biofuels : are those that have their origin in agricultural crops used to obtain products for human consumption such as sugar, starch, vegetable oil such as palm oil or animal fats. Production systems are simpler and cheaper, however, they have serious limitations as they could endanger the food supply, as well as biodiversity.
  • Second generation biofuels : they arise due to the great demand for biofuels and are obtained from lignocellulosic biomass, that is, woody or fibrous in nature. For this reason, although they represent savings in emissions, their production is more expensive and complicated than that of the first generation. This group of biofuels is produced from crops that are not intended for food or that are considered waste such as used oil, stalks, fruit peels, casings or pods, or wood chips.
  • Third generation biofuels : they also come from the biomass of inedible products or waste, but this category also includes microalgae. In this case, molecular biology techniques are used for its production.

Among the most popular, used and developed biofuels we can find:

  • The bioethanol : is generated by the fermentation of sugars found in some plants such as sugar cane, beets or some cereal species.
  • The biodiesel , however, is produced from vegetable oils such as rapeseed, soybean, canola, jatropha. Furthermore, these plant species are cultivated in order to be used as biodiesel.
  • Biopropanol or biobutanol : these two are less popular but the purpose of the research is to achieve their development for their use, together with bioethanol and biodiesel, against fossil fuels .
Advantages of biofuels

So far it seems that biofuels seem like good substitutes for our conventional fuels that harm our environment due to the large quantities handled. Here are some of the advantages of biofuels :

  • The cost of biofuels will be lower than that of gasoline or diesel once the technology with which it is generated is available to a greater extent. In addition, the cost of raw materials will be practically zero as it is waste.
  • Production processes are more efficient; they consume and pollute less.
  • It is a much less limited source than fossil fuels, which take thousands of years to generate.
  • Employment is generated locally.
  • Carbon and sulfur emissions are reduced.
  • The amounts of garbage decrease, as much of it can be used in the production of these biofuels.
  • The level of security is higher in terms of handling and storage compared to fossil fuels.

Not everything was going to be advantages. Like everything, biofuels also have their bad side; his most unknown face. In order not to give you a biased view on the matter, here are some of the reasons why, for many, these energy sources, despite being renewable, cannot be considered as “non-polluting” :

  • Because of the nitrogen fertilizers used in farm fields, biofuels of plant origin can result in increased nitrogen oxide emissions . In addition, this can lead to contamination of groundwater with nitrites and nitrates.
  • Biofuels provide less energy than fossil fuels in equal amounts, so much more feedstock is needed to match these energy levels.
  • Some authors consider that the use of crop fields for plant species destined for biofuel puts into play the fields of crops for human consumption, causing their price to rise.
  • By requiring larger areas of cultivation, the loss of forest areas , which consumes CO2, is produced. Originally, the idea was to use the remains of agricultural activities, but like everything else, its encouragement led to the destruction of natural spaces to create these plantations.
  • As with all activities related to agriculture, large amounts of water are needed to irrigate plant species.
  • During the production of biofuels, fossil fuels are used which, paradoxically, for the moment results in the balance of CO2 emissions being positive, also taking into account the deforestation that is added to the production chain.

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