Archive for January, 2008

Jan 21 2008

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Biofuel and Its New Developments

Among the most promising replacement for nonrenewable fossil fuel (petroleum, coal, etc) are fuels made from organic materials, the so-called “biofuels”. The two widely used biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Each has its own pros and cons. However, the present technologies result in limitation of production for the reason that not all parts of a certain plant can be used.

Due to this drawback, there has been lot of studies that would resolve this problem. This is where the so-called second generation of biofuel enters. This so-called second generation denotes non food crops (cellulosic biofuel) such as waste biomass, wood, etc.

To briefly differentiate second from first generation, First generation biofuel are those fuel derived from vegetable or animal fats/oils, starch or sugar with the use of modern technology. Proponents claims that increasing industrial and political support for this second generation biofuel is a more feasible solution to achieve efficient fuel production utilizing a much greater range of plants and its waste.

Cellulose ethanol production is newly discovered experimental processes which can breakdown cellulose in woody fibers. This would only mean that through this method, ethanol from crop wastes, trees and grasses can be derived. It is significantly better since trees and grasses require small amount of energy in comparison to grains that must be replanted annually. Moreover, there have been techniques to develop fast-growing trees that can grow to size in just 10 years. In addition, grasses can be harvested twice every year.

In cellulosic ethanol, the fuel is derived from the stems and stalks of plants rather than only using the sugars and starches from corns, as with corn ethanol, This is starting to gain interest in the United States. As a matter of fact, several companies are moving forward having plans to build plants using this method.

This new type of biofuel is gradually gaining popularity because of the feedstock such as wood chips and grasses that is cost effective and very abundant. During the conversion into ethanol, less fossil fuel is required, therefore, having a greater impact than the usual corn ethanol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, in comparison between the land area of grasses and corn, there is no doubt that an acre of grasses could make twice the number of gallons of ethanol that can be generated with an acre of corn. This is because in cellulose ethanol, the entire plant can be utilized instead of just the grain as in corn ethanol. This is great news for those regions having a short supply of corn-based food that is competing with the corn-ethanol manufacturers.

Based on the report made by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), by year 2050, the increasing productivity of cellulosic sources would in due course allow them to generate as much as 150 billion gallons of ethanol which is comparable to more than two-thirds present gasoline consumption in the United States.At the present time in the United States, none of the ethanol is derived from cellulosic materials. This is according to ethanol industry’s list of producers in the United States.

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