March 18th was National Biodiesel Day. This day is an occasion to look further into the world of biofuel which has gained considerable traction as an alternative fuel in recent years. Read on to learn more about biofuels and further investigate the benefits they can have on your business.
What is biofuel?
Biofuel is fuel produced through contemporary processes from biomass, rather than by the very slow geological processes involved in the formation of fossil fuels like oil. Since biomass technically can be used as a fuel directly, some people use the terms biomass and biofuel interchangeably. Liquid biofuels are derived from living renewable materials like plant or animal organic materials.
Biofuels have been around for a long time but have gained popularity in recent years as public attention turns increasingly to the climate crisis. The two most common and commercially available biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is naturally produced by the fermentation of sugars by yeasts. If it wasn’t converted into fuel it would go to waste. Biodiesel is made by chemically reacting fatty acids like animal fat, soybean oil or vegetable oil with alcohol. Ethanol has been used as a fuel since 1933, while biodiesel was first demonstrated using peanut oil in 1900. Biofuels have received increased attention over the last two decades as societies and businesses around the world strive to diversify their energy portfolios and address environmental degradation concerns.
What are the implications of biofuels?
The benefits of biofuels have come under scrutiny in large part because of the actions of its largest producer, the United States. In the US, an average of 38 million acres of land a year (15.4 million ha) is cultivated with corn to produce ethanol. The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), an energy policy intended to diversify energy sources and reduce carbon emissions, has the goal that by 2022, 160 billion litres of ethanol-equivalent biofuels, as well as 3 billion litres of biomass-based diesel, must be consumed in the US — a target that is unlikely to be met. Even if this ambitious goal is achieved, it is unlikely to substantially reduce carbon emissions because the corn is grown on fields created by thousands of hectares of tree clearing. This deforestation has also been present in the world’s second largest biofuel producer, Brazil.
Potential on the horizon:
However, the techniques around how ethanol is produced can be changed to make it more efficient and environmentally friendly, as the biofuels themselves are considered carbon neutral. Land used for the production of biofuels must not come at the cost of deforestation Otherwise, this process won’t really reduce emissions in the long run; in fact, it could increase them, as trees, especially in the Amazon, act as a carbon sink for global emissions. The generators used to produce ethanol don’t always run on renewable energy, however this too can change.
Some biofuels are not as bad as others . When crops are grown on abandoned agricultural lands and in areas that are not covered by natural ecosystems, they can have a low impact on the environment provided that fertilisers and pesticides are not overused. In the future, new types of biofuels will produce even less greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the use of native grasses for biofuel production in the United States could offer higher biofuel yields and generate less pollution than corn-based ethanol. At the same time, these grasses can enhance soil fertility and do not drain the water table.
Companies around the world have begun to heavily invest in biodiesel production.
There is a clear interest in the production of biofuels in many countries around the world. Biofuels could be beneficial to your company’s sustainability journey, especially if your company is involved in logistics or transportation. The transportation sector has come under fire in recent years because of its reliance on fossil fuels and subsequent damage to the atmosphere. When combined with other renewable energies like wind and solar, biofuels can greatly reduce your company’s carbon footprint. Should your company choose to invest in biofuels, manage it like you would your supply chain and make sure it is ethically sourced. With a rise in fossil fuel prices as governments look to limit the impacts of climate change, biofuels could be a great way to save money and further your business down the path of a sustainable future.