What are Biofuels?

Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels for the transport sector that are predominantly or exclusively produced from biomass. These include:

  • Conventional bioethanol: Commercially available biofuels derived from sugar and starch crops including: Brazilian sugarcane, corn, wheat and sugarbeets
  • Conventional biodiesel: Commercially available biodiesel made from canola , palm, soybean, and sunflower oils
  • Advanced bioethanol: Cellulosic ethanol derived from residues or energy crops including wood, switchgrass and wheat straw
  • Advanced biofuels: Currently under development – fuels include algae-based fuels, liquid-phase catalytic processing of biomass and biomass-based Hydrogen
What does the future hold for biofuels?

Biofuels can significantly contribute to the sustainable transportation and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. Experts estimate biofuels can readily provide a long-term market share of 15% or more of the transportation market over the next few years. In the shorter term, these efforts help establish markets and an effective infrastructure biofuels. In the longer term, these efforts are expected to result in lower-cost fuels that are economically competitive in the marketplace.

The production of biofuels can provide numerous local, regional, and national economic benefits, if produced sustainably. The growth and conversion of biomass feedstocks creates jobs for local people in rural, agriculture-based areas. This is particularly the case in areas where local stakeholders are consulted, involved and actively participate in biofuel production. Increased demand for feedstock also helps reduce the amount of surplus crops and reduces the need for national farming subsidies. Conversion of the raw material into fuels also provides economic benefits through the construction and operation of processing facilities. These facilities provide local employment and development opportunities in the rural areas of both developed and developing countries and can help improve the financial infrastructure of these areas.

What is ETBE and how does it compare to bioethanol?

ETBE (ethyl tertiary-butyl ether) is formed by chemically reacting ethanol with fossil raw materials. The ETBE product is blended with gasoline at concentrations of 5 ­ 10% to increase the oxygen content of petrol. The added blended fuel burns cleaner than petroleum itself and reduces the emissions of carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons from vehicles. ETBE is widely used in France at present, and other countries are also considering its use.

What is biogas?

Vehicles like passenger cars, trucks and buses use biogas as CNG, compressed natural gas in combustion engines. In many countries biogas is used as fuel for transport and in Sweden the share of renewable gas in the CNG for transport is very high. The network of filling stations is increasing and becoming a nation-wide biofuel.

Do biofuels reduce GHG emissions?

Most studies currently available indicate that biofuels can reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases associated with global climate change. As plants or trees grow, they capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the biofuels derived from plants or trees are consumed, the carbon dioxide released during the combustion process is absorbed by new plants, effectively recycling the carbon. As a result, the use of biofuels can significantly reduce net emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Many biofuels also have chemical compositions that help reduce the emission of other unwanted pollutants when they are burned. For example, the use of oxygenated biofuels such as ethanol and ETBE in gasoline blends reduces carbon monoxide emissions, and the use of ethanol in diesel engines reduces the emission of particles toward zero. The use of biodiesel reduces the emissions of carbon monoxide, unburned hydrocarbons and soot. The reduction of these unwanted products provides local and regional air quality and environmental benefits, particularly in industrial centers.For more info you can refer to:

IEA Bioenergy Task 38

US Environmental Protection Agency

What social benefits can biofuels offer, if produced sustainably?

It is imperative that biofuels are grown in collaboration with local stakeholders, and that the process is designed to co-benefit farmers. From a country and region perspective, biofuels offer increased liquid fuel security over conventional fossil oil and gas. Whereas the resources of fossil energy are limited, raw materials used for the production of biofuels can be harvested annually; however soil degradation must be minimized and nutrient levels of soils must be maintained. Biomass resources can be grown in most habitable areas of the world and can provide a sustainable, long-term supply of feedstocks for biofuels. Finally, biomass is currently the only source of renewable liquid transportation fuels that is compatible with existing infrastructure, including filling stations and vehicles. The production of home-grown fuels diminishes the dependence on crude oil and increases the security of the energy supply. Biofuels help insulate countries from sudden interruptions or sudden price fluctuations in their energy supply. The use of internally produced biofuels can also improve the self-sufficiency of countries that have net energy imports and can reduce the economic burden of importing crude oil for nations.

What are biodiesel and HVO, and how are they used?

Biodiesel is produced by chemically upgrading oils obtains from the pressing of oil plants like rape, sunflower, soybean and the fruits of oil palms. By means of transesterification with methanol, the triglycerides of the oils can be transformed into biodiesel, with properties more similar to diesel oil for use in an internal combustion engine. The biodiesel product is also called FAME – Fatty acid methyl esters. RME is one particular type made from rapeseed oil, hence the “R”.

Generally, one tonne of plant oil and 110 kg of methanol produce one tonne of biodiesel and 110 kg of glycerine. Plant oil can be also used in its untreated form or in mixtures with diesel fuel, but the market penetration of this fuel is still insignificant. Carbonization processes may shorten the service life of traditional diesel engines when this fuel is used, therefore it is necessary to use special engines for operation with pure plant oil.

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) is a biofuel made by the hydrocracking or hydrogenation of vegetable oil. Hydrocracking breaks big molecules into smaller ones using hydrogen while hydrogenation adds hydrogen to molecules. These methods can be used to create substitutes for petrol, diesel, propane, kerosene and other chemical feedstock. Diesel fuel produced from these sources is also known as green diesel or renewable diesel.

Both HVO and biodiesel can be made from the same vegetable oil feedstock. However the processing technologies and chemical makeup of the two fuels differ. Still, they are both a renewable diesel as they are both of bio-origin. HVO can though use all sorts of oils, fats and greases whereas biodiesel can not, HVO should actually be termed HMO – Hydrogenated Mixed Oil to better represent the raw materials used.

FAME can be used as blend with diesel or as neat fuel (“B100”) where most common is a low-blend, like B7, B10, B15 etc. In several countries like Austria, Sweden and Germany B100 is used in public transport with its own diesel specification for optimized engines. HVO can be blended in diesel in high share without need for altering the specification. HVO100 can even be used in many diesel engines as is and guaranteed by the engine manufacturer.