Biofuels, Are they the Answer?
Bio-fuels are also known as agro fuels. They are a renewable source of energy made from animal and vegetable material and a large portion of municipal solid and industrial waste. Bio-fuels are major sources of fuel from biomass. Biomass is any organic material stored in the tissues of living plants and animals. Plants generate their energy from the solar power using the chlorophyll in the leaves to create tissue from water in the ground and carbon dioxide in the air and animals take their energy from plants either by directly eating plants or by eating other animals that have eaten plants. Even though biofuels are sources of energy obtained from renewable resources, the positive effects to the environment are far outweighed by the negative effects to the environment from the production of these biofuels. Our need for energy is increasing day by day for heating, cooling, cooking, driving, etc. One of the major reasons for the development of bio-fuels is the act that fossil fuel oil reserves are limited. Based on total worldwide oil reserves of 143.1 thousand million tons of oil (end 2001) and a worldwide oil consumption rate of 3510.6 million tons, it is estimated that the oil reserves will probably last until 2044. Also, there has been increasing concerns regarding global emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides. Biodiesel, which is the most popular form of bio-fuel, is used in any diesel engine when mixed with mineral diesel. Biodiesel contains no sulphur and its use in a conventional diesel engine results in substantial reduction of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. A study conducted by U.S. Department of Energy showed that the production and use of biodiesel, compared to petroleum diesel, resulted in a 78.5% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. There are many types of bio-fuel such as vegetable oil, which is used in many older diesel engines; butanol, which is seen as a replacement for petroleum; and biogas which is produced from biodegradable waste materials. With the advancement in technology, there has been introduction of “second generation” bio-fuels such as bio-hydrogen, bio-methanol and mixed alcohols - which use biomass to liquid technology. Emerging new second-generation technologies can uses genetically modified (GM) bacteria and enzymes to break down plant waste and convert cellulose to bio-fuels. Not only that, now there are “third generation” bio-fuels known as algae fuels. They have many advantages as they produce 30 times more energy per acre than land and are also biodegradable. With all the advantages of bio-fuels its global production is increasing steadily at an increasing rate. The USA has recently built more than 50 ethanol refineries to meet its target of producing 5 billion gallons of bio-fuel each year by 2013. But the reality is that the production of bio-fuels is not helping, but causing even more damage to our environment The development of commercial bio-fuel production started with the use of corn for ethanol, and has seen consistent growth in a few countries. For example, ethanol is produced from corn in the United States, India, and China. However, in Brazil 50% of all sugarcane produced was devoted to ethanol. Globally, bio-ethanol production is concentrated in two countries, Brazil and the United States. But the cultivation of sugar has resulted in soil erosion and degradation. As a result, it has negative impact on other ecosystems. For example, the production of sugar has changed coastal hydrology. Siltation from soil erosion has impact on coastal ecosystems, especially coral reefs and sea grass beds. Excess nutrient from sugar cultivation has resulted in nutrient loading and eutrophication (depletion of oxygen in water) of freshwater and marine systems. Also, producing bio-fuels on a large scale requires huge amounts of land and...
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