Biofuels has long been considered an alternative to traditional fossil fuels. In the 80's this was one of the most popular solutions to the planets fuel crisis. Scientists today are realising the drawbacks of using this as an alternative to normal fuels.
The need for biofuels
The growing cost of fuels across the globe has triggered an interest in biofuels and other alternative sources of energy. The reserves of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum products that we are dependant are reducing. It is the burning of these fossil fuels that are contributing to the green house effect. Added to this, the energy security and climate change issues being debated in governments across countries make the use of biofuels an important alternative.
What are biofuels
Biofuels are fuels made out of plant matter. There are two types of biofuels. Those that are made from grasses, crop residues, and inedible plant parts and those made from crops like wheat, maize or sugarcane. These are considered to be more fuel efficient than those made of grains such as corn ethanol. Bioethanol is a type of alcohol that is produced from fermenting sugar components of plant materials.
There are two types of biofuels. Those that are made from grasses, crop residues, and inedible plant parts and those made from crops like wheat, maize or sugarcane.
It is mostly made from sugar and starch crops. Biodiesel which is a popular biofuel in Europe is made from animal fats, recycled greases and vegetable oils.
Why water matters when producing biofuels
Biofuels are not as efficient as traditional fuels. What's more, most biofuel crops require a lot more water to grow. To give you an idea, 2400 litres of water is required to produce one litre of ethanol fuel. Taking into consideration that one out of six people on our planet do not have access to safe drinking water, 2400 litres of water is a lot to use. What's more the planet is facing water withdrawals for irrigation up to 66%. This means that the amount of water available for agriculture every year is reducing day by day.
The side effect of growing crops
Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory in the United States feel that growing crops for biofuels can indirectly result in an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases that are being produced.
Another side effect is since there is not enough area to grow crops for biofuels, forests are being reduced to create more land. This land needs to be made suitable for growing crops and as a result a lot of nitrogen based fertilisers are used. This in turn releases large amounts of nitrous oxide, which is a greenhouse gas that can trap more heat than CO2.
There is not enough area to grow crops for biofuels, forests are being reduced to create more land.
Producing biofuel from crops like sugarcane, wheat and maize can result in a food shortage of these crops. With a world that is facing acute food shortages, this factor is one of the most important deterrents of adopting bio fuels. In fact it has been debated that increasing the production of biofuels has lead to increase in prices of food crops. Resources that would otherwise be dedicated to food crops are being used to grow bio fuel crop. The amount of carbon released by clearing forests by fires and the use of nitrogen fertilisers to ensure that the land is ready to grow crops for biofuel, offset the positive effect of these crops.
Just a little bit about Jatropha
Jatropha curcas seeds are native to Central America and are also found in India, Philippines and Brazil. Did you know that this is a genus that consists of 175 of trees, plants and shrubs? The oil from these seeds is used to make biofuel.
Fuel from Jatropha is used by Indian Railways and Tata Motors to power trial runs of the Shatabdi and Jan Shatabdi train.
Jatropha is a crop that is easy to grow in India and is popularly used for biofuel. These crops are popular since they require very little water and fertiliser to grow. What's more they are not eaten by cattle. In fact fuel from this crop is used by Indian Railways and Tata Motors to power trial runs of the Shatabdi and Jan Shatabdi train. The drawback of Jatropha is that these plants allow extraction from their seeds once every three years.
The release of nitrogen oxides
One of the notable impacts of biofuel is the release of nitrogen oxides. Engines that use biofuels needs to be specially configured to ensure that the emissions of these nitrogen oxides are reduced.