As the name implies, biofuels are fuels derived from organic material. Since they can be made in many ways, they are classified as 1st generation, 2nd generation, and 3rd generation.
First generation bio-fuels are the more common fuels that are produced from food crops and animal fats. Some examples include bio-diesel, vegetable oil, and bio-gas.
Second generation bio-fuels are made from waste biomass, making them a more sustainable solution as compared to their 1st gen counterparts. They include various alcohols (such as ethanol) and diesel derived from wood and even human excrement.
Third generation bio-fuels are generally made from algae that are farmed on a massive scale. By way of photosynthesis and the breaking down of carbon dioxide, the carbohydrates extracted from these micro-organisms is used to make various fuels.
So what separates bio-fuels from fossil fuels?
Bio-fuels differ from fossil fuels in the following ways:
- Where bio-fuels can be made very quickly, fossil fuels take millions of years to be made.
- The pollution from fossil fuels is far more severe. Although burning bio-fuels also creates emissions, the carbon dioxide is more environmentally friendly and absorbed easily by crops and organisms.
- Fossil fuels are non-renewable, whereas bio-fuels tend be more renewable. As long as there is human excrement, there will be bio-fuels. Furthermore, with the help of crop rotation, there can be an endless supply of bio-fuels.
This leads us on to the advantages of bio-fuels:
- As more people use bio-fuels, it lowers the demand on pollution creating fossil-fuels.
- This helps reduce harmful carbon emissions, making bio-fuels more friendly for the environment.
- And since they can be made from almost any organic substance, bio-fuels are a cheap alternative for consumers.
Bio-fuels sound too good to be true. There must be some disadvantages to producing and using them. So, are there any?
Like any new technology, of course there are disadvantages
Although they are environmentally friendly, bio-fuels have been ironically criticized by the environmental community, for the reasons given below:
- It has long been debated on the usefulness on first generation bio-fuels as compared to the shortage of food they could cause. Producing bio-fuels from crops make the food worthless for us to eat. And some people believe that we should rather use those crops to cure world hunger than to power our vehicles and homes.
- The large farmlands necessary to produce first and third generation bio-fuels can result in us encroaching on the natural ecology of plants and animals.
So you can see, biofuels are still a contentious issue. However, we believe that with the correct management – such as crop rotation – and improved technology biofuels can be a sustainable solution that will do more good than harm. But only time will tell.