Converted from biomass (plant or animal matter), biofuel is a unique renewable energy source that can be converted to liquid fuel form. In contrast with fossil fuels, biofuel serves as a renewable and clean energy alternative for transportation fuel needs. Biofuel production differs depending on the type of biomass used.
Types of Biomass Energy
Biomass energy comes in various forms, including biogas (mixture of gases like methane, hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide), liquid biofuels like biodiesel and methanol, and solid biofuels like wood. Compared to solid biofuels which can be burned for their energy, biogas and liquid biofuels must undergo certain processes to be produced.
Processes for Biomass Energy to Biofuel Production
Depending on the specific type of biomass (plant oils or manure) and the use of the biofuel (transportation fuel or to power generators), the processes for biofuel production vary. The most common three processes include:
- Burning solid biofuel for direct use in powering generators
- Anaerobic digestion (also called bacterial decomposition), which produces methane gas through bacteria digesting wet waste in an oxygen-less atmosphere
- Converting to liquid or gaseous fuels
Liquid Biofuel Production (Biodiesel)
Biodiesel is the most common form of liquid biofuel and is produced through transesterification, which converts oils and fats (biomass) into biodiesel with glycerin left as a co-product. Vegetable oil, grease and animal fats are common biomass sources and are reacted with methanol and a catalyst for biofuel production.
In comparison to fossil fuels which contribute large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and worsens global warming, biofuel acts as a clean alternative with significantly less output of greenhouse gases.
Through the use of biofuel over fossil fuels and gasoline, the environmental footprint of production plants would decrease, thereby creating a more sustainable system for the impact of humans on the earth and its resources.
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