The concept of biofuels has existed since the invention of the motor vehicle. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, Henry Ford intended to power his Model Ts with ethanol, and initial diesel engines used peanut oil for running. With the discovery of enormous deposits of petroleum, gasoline and diesel was available cheaply, thereby relegating biofuels to the background. However, the recent spurt in oil prices, coupled with mounting concern related to global warming associated with carbon dioxide (CO2), emissions have resulted in the reemergence of biofuels as viable alternatives. In fact, gasoline and diesel are ancient biofuels but are called fossil fuels, since they are produced from decomposed plants and animals that were buried underground for millions of years. Though biofuels are similar, they are primarily derived from plants grown at present.
In the United States, a large proportion of gasoline is blended with ethanol, the same content of alcoholic beverages, apart from the fact that fuel ethanol is produced from heavily processed corn. Several techniques are employed to make biofuels, but the most common ones utilize chemical reactions, fermentation and heat for breaking down the starches, sugars and other molecules in plants. The remaining products are finally processed and refined to make a fuel that can power an automobile.
Numerous countries around the globe use several varieties of biofuels. For example, Brazil has been at the forefront in making ethanol from sugarcane, and some automobiles are capable of running on pure ethanol instead of being added to gasoline. Another biofuel, called biodiesel, is a diesel fuel that is generally obtained from palm oil, and Europe is the leading region in using this fuel.
At first glance, biofuels appear to be an ideal solution. Automobiles constitute a primary source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. However, as plants take in carbon dioxide for their growth, crops being grown for producing biofuels ought to absorb approximately as much carbon dioxide as being emitted by cars burning these fuels. Further, in contrast to fossil fuel reserves, biofuels form a renewable resource because more crops can always be grown for converting them into fuel.
However, things are not as simple as they may seem. A lot of energy is consumed in the process of growing crops, producing fertilizers and pesticides, and finally processing the plants into biofuels. In fact, the amount of energy consumed puts forward a moot point as to whether corn-derived ethanol can actually provide more energy than required in growing and processing it. Additionally, since a large proportion of the energy used in producing these fuels is obtained from coal and natural gas, the idea of biofuels replacing as much oil as they use up falls flat.
Looking ahead, popular opinion is that it would be a good idea to make biofuels from grasses and saplings that contain higher amounts of cellulose, a hardy material making up the cell walls and most of the weight in plants. Efforts are underway to convert cellulose into biofuel, and when achieved, it could result in producing more efficient biofuels.
According to “Industry Experts” market research report, the global market for Biofuels is expected to reach about 59.2 billion gallons by 2020 from 27.4 billion gallons in 2010, registering a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 8% during the analysis period, 2010-2020.