Biofuels – A Surefire Alternative ??

Posted by By at 10 March, at 16 : 17 PM Print

Biofuels – A Surefire Alternative ??


Bio-Fuels have been around as long as cars have. At the start of the 20th century, Henry Ford planned to fuel his Model Ts with ethanol, and early diesel engines were shown to run on peanut oil.

But the discoveries of huge petroleum deposits kept fossil fuel costs cheap for decades and the biofuels were largely forgotten. However, with the recent rise in oil prices, along with growing concern about global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions, biofuels have been regaining popularity.

Gasoline and diesel are actually ancient biofuels. But they are known as fossil fuels because they are made from decomposed plants and animals that have been buried in the ground for millions of years. Biofuels are similar, except that they’re made from plants grown today.

According to definition “Biofuel is a type of fuel which is derived from living organisms or metabolic by-products such as biomass.” The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) states that unlike other renewable energy sources, biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels, to help meet transportation fuel needs. The term biofuels cover solid biomass, liquid fuels and various bio gases. The Biofuels can be broadly divided into first generation biofuel and second generation biofuel. First generation biofuels include ethanol, biodiesel, bio gas, etc. second generation biofuels include cellulosic ethanol, algae fuel, bio hydrogen etc. In order to be considered a biofuel the fuel must contain over 80% renewable materials. Its origin starts from the photosynthesis process and can be referred to as a solar energy source.

Biodiesel is also known as Methyl Ester, is a clean burning and renewable fuel alternative to mineral diesel made predominantly from vegetable oils, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. There are various ways of making biofuels, but they generally use chemical reactions, fermentation, and heat to break down the starches, sugars, and other molecules in plants. The leftover products are then refined to produce a fuel that cars can use.

Biodiesel’s physical and chemical properties are very similar to normal diesel, so it can be used as an additive (typically 20%) to reduce vehicle emissions or in its pure form as a renewable alternative fuel for diesel engines. The B20/B30 grade, a blend of 20/30% Biodiesel with 80/70% mineral Diesel blends are used because of their year round performance and represent a good balance between cost savings, emissions, cold weather performance, materials compatibility and cleaning effect. Once blended, B20/B30 may be treated exactly like ordinary Diesel.

The global demand for Biofuels is rapidly increasing and it is mainly driven by environmental concerns and energy security. It is spurred due to the potential CO2 savings that range from 60 to 85 % in most cases, making a significant contribution to EU climate goals. The latest review of evidences by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports with high confidence that rising levels of CO2 are warming oceans, melting ice and turning oceans more acidic. Global average temperatures are projected to be 2.6-4.8° Celsius (C) higher than at present by the end of this century if emissions continue to rise at the current rate. Although emissions from other sectors are generally falling, road transport is one of the few sectors where emissions have risen rapidly in recent years.

The transport sector is on track to become the European Union’s biggest source of CO2 by 2030 according to the European Commission. The 2009 European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive requires a 10% share of renewable energy in the transport sector by 2020 and also the Fuel Quality Directive set a target of a 6% greenhouse gas reduction for fuels used in the transport sector in 2020. The contribution from biofuels to these targets is expected to be significant. To avoid possible negative side-effects, both directives impose sustainability criteria that biofuels and bioliquids need to satisfy in order to be counted towards the targets and receive support.

The biofuels sustainability criteria, which are in force today, prevent the direct conversion of forests and wetlands and areas with a high biodiversity value for biofuel production and require that biofuels must emit a minimum of 35% less greenhouse gases than the fossil fuels they replace. This requirement will increase to 50% in 2017. However, there is a risk that part of the additional demand for biofuels will be met through an increase in the amount of land devoted to agriculture worldwide, leading to an indirect increase in emissions due to land conversion. Therefore, the Commission was asked to review the impact of indirect land use change (ILUC) on greenhouse gas emissions and propose legislative action for minimising that impact.

Countries around the world are using various kinds of biofuels. For decades, Brazil has turned sugarcane into ethanol, and some cars there can run on pure ethanol rather than as additive to fossil fuels. And biodiesel—a diesel-like fuel commonly made from palm oil—is generally available in Europe.

On the face of it, biofuels look like a great solution. Cars are a major source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas that causes global warming. But since plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, crops grown for biofuels should suck up about as much carbon dioxide as comes out of the tailpipes of cars that burn these fuels. And unlike underground oil reserves, biofuels are a renewable resource since we can always grow more crops to turn into fuel.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. The process of growing the crops, making fertilizers and pesticides, and processing the plants into fuel consumes a lot of energy. It’s so much energy that there is debate about whether ethanol from corn actually provides more energy than is required to grow and process it. Also, because much of the energy used in production comes from coal and natural gas, biofuels don’t replace as much oil as they use.

This brings us to a brief analysis of the contemporary and future perspectives of Bio-Fuels taking in consideration different perspectives and ground realities as well.

While it is not hidden that Biofuels certainly are eco-friendly and more sustainable than the fossil fuels, we have to analyse the finer points in order to get a real perspective.


A study shows that the first-generation biofuels do not deliver the carbon emissions savings that they are subsidised to provide, but the demand for land to be used for biofuels puts great strain on the environment, wildlife and local communities . The rising phenomenon of farmers genocide due to land grabbing and reuse for developmental purposes is seen world over like the Gaurani Tribe in Africa. Taking land out of food production – which is increasingly happening in Africa – With no land to maintain their ancient cultures, the Guarani-Kaiowá feel ashamed and humiliated. Many feel sad, insecure, unstable, scared, hungry and miserable. They have lost their crops and their hope for a better life. They are exploited and enslaved by sugar cane production for alcohol,” he said. “These conditions of despair and misery cause the epidemic of violence and suicide among the young.”

pushes up global food prices, while bringing new land into production leads to drained wetlands, ploughed-up grasslands and razed forests. This can result in huge emissions of greenhouse gases. The Lithuanian presidency of the EU is not pushing for a tight enough cap on damaging biofuels, nor pushing for measures to capture their full climate impacts, and we urge the UK government to show leadership in the negotiations and encourage other member states to support a 5% cap that will stop further increases in the use of food for fuel.

Ethical Issues There are ethical issues surrounding the use of biofuels. For example, crops that could be used to feed people are used to provide the raw materials for biofuels instead. This could cause food shortages or increases in the price of food. There are other economic issues surrounding the use of biofuels, including:

  • human resources -more people are needed to produce biofuels than are needed to produce petrol and diesel
  • increased income - for farmers
  • lower fuel prices - biofuels limit the demand for fossil fuels, helping to reduce increases in fuel prices.

There are environmental issues surrounding the use of biofuels. Biodiesel naturally contains little sulfur. For example, it may be said that they are carbon neutral – the amount of carbon dioxide released when they are used is the same as the amount absorbed by the plants as they grew. If so, this would reduce the production of this greenhouse gas. However, while biofuels produce less carbon dioxide overall, they are not carbon neutral. This is because fossil fuels are used in their production, for example in making fertilisers for the growing plants.


Biofuels, produced sustainably and under efficient processes, are a low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels in the EU’s energy mix and for transport in particular. Biofuels are easy to store and deploy, have a high energy density and typically emit substantially less greenhouse gases than oil, gas or coal. Only biofuels which satisfy a set of sustainability criteria qualify for public support on the European market.

As the market for biofuels has expanded, it has become clear that not all biofuels are the same, in terms of their greenhouse gas impacts from global land use. Recent scientific studies have shown that when taking into account indirect land use change, for example when biofuel production causes food or feed production to be displaced to non-agricultural land such as forests, some biofuels may actually be adding as much to greenhouse gas emissions as the fossil fuels they replace.

On 17 October 2012 in Brussels The European Commission  published proposal to amend the current legislation on biofuels through the Renewable Energy and the Fuel Quality Directives and in particular:

  • To increase the minimum greenhouse gas saving threshold for new installations to 60% in order to improve the efficiency of biofuel production processes as well as discouraging further investments in installations with low greenhouse gas performance.
  • To include indirect land use change (ILUC) factors in the reporting by fuel suppliers and Member States of greenhouse gas savings of biofuels and bioliquids;
  • To limit the amount of food crop-based biofuels and bioliquids that can be counted towards the EU’s 10% target for renewable energy in the transport sector by 2020, to the current consumption level, 5% up to 2020, while keeping the overall renewable energy and carbon intensity reduction targets;
  • To provide market incentives for biofuels with no or low indirect land use change emissions, and in particular the 2nd and 3rd generation biofuels produced from feedstock that do not create an additional demand for land, including algae, straw, and various types of waste, as they will contribute more towards the 10% renewable energy in transport target of the Renewable Energy Directive.

With these new measures, the Commission wants to promote biofuels that help achieving substantial emission cuts, do not directly compete with food and are more sustainable at the same time. While the current proposal does not affect the possibility for Member States to provide financial incentives for biofuels, the Commission considers that in the period after 2020 biofuels should only receive financial support if they lead to substantial greenhouse gas savings and are not produced from crops used for food and feed.

During the proposal , The Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said: ”For biofuels to help us combat climate change, we must use truly sustainable biofuels. We must invest in biofuels that achieve real emission cuts and do not compete with food. We are of course not closing down first generation biofuels, but we are sending a clear signal that future increases in biofuels must come from advanced biofuels. Everything else will be unsustainable”.

There is significant untapped potential for sustainable waste from farms, forests, households, and industry to be turned into transport fuel, rejecting concerns that there are insufficient quantities of waste organic material to make a meaningful or cost-effective contribution to meeting transport fuel demand

The researchers calculated that Europeans generate 900 million tonnes of waste paper, food, wood and plant material each year, about a quarter of which – about 220 million tonnes – is available for energy use as long as sustainability safeguards are in place.

This huge waste mountain could provide enough feedstock to produce fuel to displace 37 million tonnes of oil imports each year by 2030, creating an industry that at full capacity could support up to 300,000 jobs and make significant greenhouse gas savings, the report predicts.

Even a more conservative goal of sourcing 2% of transport fuel from waste materials by 2020 would secure over 40,000 jobs and return up to €2.4bn in net revenues to the agricultural and forestry sectors.

Deriving fuels from waste avoids competition with food production and emissions from indirect land use change (ILUC), such as clearing forests for energy crop production. Some studies have found once these ILUC factors are accounted for some biofuels actually have higher emissions than the fossil fuels they are supposed to replace. For example, some fuels derived from substances such as palm oil have been shown to have lifetime emissions higher than petrol or diesel.

But the paper says that if advanced biofuels from wastes and residues are sourced sustainably, they produce at least 60% fewer emissions than fossil fuels during their lifecycle, with savings potentially rising to 85% under certain circumstances.

Similarly, today’s report estimates production of ethanol from European steel mill residues alone could amount to around one-third of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) target for renewable fuels to have a 10% share of the transport fuel market by 2020.

If all the wastes and residues that are sustainably available in the European Union were converted only to biofuels, this could supply 16 per cent of road transport fuel in 2030.

• If advanced biofuels from wastes and residues are sourced sustainably, they can deliver GHG savings well in excess of 60 per cent, even when taking a full lifecycle approach.

• Safeguards would be needed to ensure this resource is developed sustainably, including sustainable land management practices that maintain carbon balances and safeguard biodiversity, water resources and soil functionality.

• If this resource were utilized to its full technical potential, up to €15 billion of additional revenues would flow into the rural economy annually and up to 300,000 additional jobs would be created by 2030.

• While some combinations of feedstock and technology will require short-term incentives, others are close to being competitive and require little more than policy certainty.

It is not possible to determine how much of the technical potential for biofuels from wastes and residues will be met, but if investors realized the full technical potential identified here, up to €15 billion annually would flow into Europe’s rural economy and up to 133,000 permanent jobs would be created in feedstock collection and transport. In addition, construction of these biofuel plants would require up to a further 162,000 temporary workers, and operation of these plants would create up to a further 13,000 permanent jobs

Indian Oil- CREDA Biofuels Ltd. , is a subsidatry of IOCL , with a 26 percent equity stake of Chattisgarh State Renewable Energy Development Agency. It was incorporated in February 2009 with the purpose of promotion of Biofuel through cultivation of biofuel species on revenue wastelands and degraded lands in the state.The company has undertaken energy crop plantation of Jatropha and its maintenance spread over 5889 hectares in 12 districts of Chhattisgarh.

IndianOil – CREDA Biofuels Ltd (ICBL)

Present use

These initiatives has increased the green cover of the state and generated rural livelihood opportunities in remote villages. Till date more than 3.0 lacs mandays have been generated across the state. As envisaged the activities of the company will also enhance the health of soil, water and air regimes, besides likely enhancement of energy security of the nation.

Growth and expected usage

Future prospects

Sir Richard Branson hails ‘revolutionary new fuel’, as Chinese jet biofuel plant becomes the first in world to secure sustainability certification


The study ‘Evaluation of the life cycle of bioethanol produced from rice straws’ and that by GCB Bioenergy both in the year 2012 have provided conclusive results about LCA’s. Biofuels from wastes and residues have been shown in previous Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to deliver high CO2 savings. Estimates of carbon intensities have ranged from around -25 grams of CO2 equivalent per Mega joule (g CO2e/MJ) at the low end to 40g CO2e/MJ at the high end, compared to fossil fuels at around 84g CO2e/MJ.


However, previous studies have often overlooked important sources of emissions, such as soil carbon loss, any need to use extra fertilizer if removing residues, and indirect emissions caused by diverting residues and wastes from their existing uses. For forest residues, there is also the issue that in some climates the residues decompose slowly and act as a temporary carbon sink. This has an impact on the potential carbon savings from mobilizing such residues for conversion to advanced biofuels. The above issues are taken into consideration in this project by using a comprehensive carbon accounting approach. Three biofuel pathways are considered: biochemical ethanol, Fischer-Tropsch (FT)-diesel and pyrolysis diesel.Agricultural and forest residues are important for returning carbon and nutrients to the soil and to help maintain soil fertility, reduce soil erosion and contribute to soil carbon. Hence, residue removal, even when done in line with sustainable practices, is likely to negatively impact soil carbon sequestration potential, a conclusion supported by both empirical and modelling studies3. The negative impact on soil organic carbon from residue removal can to some extent be mitigated by agricultural practices such as no-till, manure application or use of cover crops.This project bases its assumptions for agricultural residues on a long-term empirical study where wheat straw removal was analyzed over a period of 22 years at a site in the UK4. It is acknowledged that the assumptions are based on limiteddata, and additional empirical evidence covering a wider geographical

range would be extremely valuable.When forest residues are left behind, especially in colder climates like Europe, decomposition occurs slowly, providing a temporary carbon sink if notharvested for biofuels. For example, between 2 and 30 per cent of the carbon stored in twigs and branches (known as slash) may still remain sequestered after a period of 25 years in Northern European countries. The carbon in un-decomposed forest residues would be released if used for bioenergy, and thus this can be seen as a carbon loss when considering emissions over a 20-year project timeframe. If the timeframe considered were longer, the estimated carbon loss would be smaller. This analysis assumes that 10 per cent of slash will remain un-decomposed at 20 years if not removed for biofuel production.However, several modelling studies do suggest that slash removal might lead to increased soil carbon loss 8,9,10. In the absence of clear evidence, this study assumes no carbon loss for slash removal in the central case, but it also examines a sensitivity case where 3 tonnes of carbon per hectare is lost.


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