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2016-02-04T18:36:47+05:30

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With the progress and advance in industrialization, the human need for renewable energy sources is ever increasing with every passing day. Traditional energy sources or the non-renewable energy sources like coal and petroleum are limited in quantity and are depleting at a very fast rate. Generally, these traditional energy sources are burnt to release heat and are put to use by different industries for various purposes. As the conventional sources of energy are diminishing in quantity, their prices are sky-rocketing. Hence today, it has become a mandate to harness the non-conventional or renewable sources of energy and use them efficiently and effectively. The renewable sources of energy comprise of the energy obtained from sun, wind, flowing water or the heat inside the earth’s crust – geothermal energy. These renewable sources of energy need to be converted into a suitable form in order to be used in industries or homes to meet their energy requirements.  

Biofuel, the topic of this essay, is a renewable source of energy. It is defined as any fuel whose energy is obtained through a process of biological carbon fixation. In simple language, any hydrocarbon fuel that is produced from organic mass in a short period of time is considered a biofuel. Biofuel is different from fossil fuels in terms of time taken to form the respective fuel. Fossil fuels like crude oil, natural gas etc take millions of years to form but the biofuel is ready within a period of some weeks or months. It is produced from the living organisms or from their metabolic waste. Since all living beings get energy directly or indirectly by consuming plants and plants use solar energy to perform photosynthesis, biofuel is considered as an indirect form of solar energy. Biofuels can be obtained from various sources like agricultural crops, commercial and domestic waste, forests, municipal waste or by-products of the food industry.
 

It is not necessary that a biofuel has to be made by a living organism. Biofuels can also be obtained from chemical reactions carried out in industries or in a laboratory setting where organic matter (biomass) is used to make fuel. How exactly to determine if a particular fuel is a biofuel or not? If the fuel satisfies certain conditions listed below, only then it can be classified as a biofuel.
·         The starting material or the input for the fuel formation is CO2
·         This CO2 is fixed (or acted upon) by a living organism
·         The final fuel is produced within a short duration of time like within months
Ethanol is an example of biofuel. It is a type of alcohol that is produced from the fermentation of any organic raw material which is rich in sugar/starch content (sugar cane or maize). The sugar/starch is fermented by organic or chemical process into alcohol and pure ethanol is obtained by the process of distillation. The other examples of biofuels are biodiesel and methanol.  

Though biofuels are renewable sources of energy but they are not ‘green’ or environmental friendly sources of energy. The combustion of biofuels produces greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The consumption of biofuels does leave a print on our environment and it damages the protective ozone layer around the earth. Logically thinking if we cultivate more plants that use CO2 for photosynthesis, the CO2 released by the combustion of these biofuels can be kept under check. But sadly this is not the case. The fertilizers used for the growth of crops contain large amount of nitrogen and its compounds. This N2O is another greenhouse gas that facilitates the depletion on ozone layer. Hence with the growth of more plants, it is possible to reduce the carbon print but the damage done by the nitrogen compounds increases manifold. Hence it is not possible to blindly shift to biofuels as a new and alternative source of energy. It needs to be studied and explored in depth and we must remember there is no one solution to meet the energy needs of today. We need to explore our options, mix and match our energy sources to find out an optimum solution that meets out needs and at the same time does not pollute our environment and damage our protective shield of ozone layer.
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