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[Ambassador report] [Thematic Report] Biofuels, Scam or Truth?

by Geumbee Ahn | 31-07-2021 23:07 Comments 5 recommendations 0

Biofuel is a broad scientific term that is used to refer to any fuel that is derived from biomass, or plant or algae or animal waste. Since such base ingredients can be garnered and replenished easily, biofuel is considered to be a highly reliable and renewable energy store that may be able to replace fossil fuels as a power source in the future.

Generation Biofuels - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

The word biofuel, although in some cases used interchangeably for naturally found energy sources such as wood, is usually reserved for liquid or gaseous fuels that are produced from contemporary processes rather than the slow geological formation endemic to fossil fuels. Biofuels are functionally equivalent to petroleum fuels and fully compatible with the existing petroleum infrastructure. They require no engine modification of the vehicle, hence the increasing consideration of biodiesel as an alternative to petroleum or diesel in the powering of automobiles. About 25 joules of energy can be harvested from a kilogram of ethanol, while gasoline, in comparison, produces between 45 to 48 joules per kg.

In order to derive energy from biofuel, the biomass must undergo a refinement process to be converted into fuel, which is the end product that can then be combusted. The most common method for converting biomass into ethanol is fermentation, or the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. During fermentation, microorganisms like bacteria and yeast metabolize plant sugars and produce end products such as ethanol. Ethanol is commonly made from sugarcane bagasse, or the dry pulpy residue that remains after extracting the juice from sugar cane, or alternatively from various grasses that can be cultivated on low-quality land - primarily corn in the United States.

In theory, biofuel is considered to be a carbon-neutral energy source. This is because plants convert CO2 into oxygen during photosynthesis, and so while in the process of growing the plants that we need to produce biofuel, they null and void the carbon that is produced through incinerating the fuel. Scientists have postulated that increasing biofuel usage will affect a positive influence on the world’s net carbon emissions in the long term, as more and more plants will be grown in order to supply the mounting needs of the biomass market and process more CO2 into oxygen.

Biodiesel is a type of liquid biofuel that is most commonly used for ship and locomotive engines. The South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy announced in November of last year that it will begin to look into increasing the required percentage of biodiesel in the net quota of diesel consumed by the country’s automotive industry. This legislation is a reinforcement of the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard, which mandates that companies supplying diesel for transportation must combine the fossil fuels with a certain percentage of biodiesel. The threshold, initially established in 2012, was 2%, but the government reported that it could possibly be raised to 5% by August of 2021. The Ministry said in its statement following the announcement of the legislation that it believed that the heightened production costs would be commensurate with expected reductions in carbon emissions.

How feasible is this, though?

The idea of growing enough plants to cancel out the exhaustive carbon production of the transportation industry (maritime shipping alone is responsible for roughly 3% of global CO2 emissions, exhibiting uninhibited growth at a rate of 5% per year) offers an appealing notion of environmental yin and yang. In reality, however, the idea that biofuel is the be-all, end-all solution to climate change and environmental harm is a far-fetched assumption.

Firstly, although the accuracy of the mathematics used to compute the emission of a biofuel-powered economy has been the subject of much academic controversy over the years, it has at least been proven that ethanol - one of the most commonly advocated forms of biofuel - actually generates the same amount of greenhouse gas as fossil fuels, or more, per unit of energy. However, biofuel lobbyists argued, this was still better than fossil fuel alternatives because ethanol's CO2 is "recycled." In the words of a WSJ columnist, “since plants absorb and store carbon that is already in the atmosphere, burning them as fuel would create no new emissions, whereas fossil fuels release CO2 that has been buried for millions of years”.

However, this gives rise to the second argument against biofuels’ carbon neutrality. A 2009 study by The Science journal found that if mature forests are cleared to make room for biofuel-growing farms, then the oxygen that would otherwise be produced in those forests ought to be deducted from biofuel’s balance sheet. These complications make calculating the net effect of biofuel on the carbon emissions of the world much more complicated than initially thought, and casts doubt on the conclusion that biofuel will be the intrinsic solution to carbon dioxide emissions in transportation.

Finally, the ability of the processes used to manufacture biofuel has been called into question. The machines used to refine biomass into fuel are largely powered by fossil fuels, and are therefore not carbon neutral. Whether or not the biofuel itself adds to or deducts from the net carbon dioxide percentage in the atmosphere, the emissions of the machines used to manufacture it mean that at least with today’s technology levels, biofuel will continue to operate in the red.

Carbon neutrality is an attractive proposition. Whether or not biofuels are the answer to achieving that blank balance is, on the other hand, not as cut and dry a question. As an increasing amount of environmentally conscious legislation hurries to adopt putative ‘green’ jurisprudence, it is vital that the true impact of biofuels on the environment is closely analysed and monitored.

<Works Referenced>

1. https://www.korea.kr/news/policyBriefingView.do?newsId=148778408

2. https://theconversation.com/biofuels-turn-out-to-be-a-climate-mistake-heres-why-64463

3. https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/SB10001424052748703574604574500013927534676

4. https://www.korea.kr/news/policyNewsView.do?newsId=148879769



Yuseon Mentor

  • Yuseon Mentor says :
    Hi Geumbee,

    This is your mentor Yuseon:D

    I loved your flow of the report regarding biofuels, their worth, and how feasible it truly is.
    I loved how you questioned the general idea that biofuels are just eco-friendly, end of story.
    It is quite true that the machines used to refine biomass into fuel are largely powered by fossil fuels, and are therefore not carbon neutral.

    Thanks for sharing this report:)

    Posted 15-08-2021 20:44

Paras Kunwar

  • Paras Kunwar says :
    Thanks for your report
    Posted 09-08-2021 15:35

Asmita Gaire

  • Asmita Gaire says :
    Greetings Geumbee
    I hope you are doing well
    The topic literally is so attractive and so does the report
    Thank you so much for this report
    Keep writing
    Kind regards
    Asmita Gaire
    Green cheers from Nepal
    Posted 02-08-2021 02:08

Debbie Mentor

  • Debbie Mentor says :
    Dear Geumbee,

    This is your mentor Debbie. :)
    Thanks for your effort in analyzing the issues behind the use of biofuels. It is definitely a hot issue in the field of renewable energy and indeed a lot of research is being put on this subject. As you said there are certain drawbacks to biofuels but I hope these can be improved and the researches do not go into waste.. Hopefully biofuels can help us reach the goal of carbon neutrality faster than we imagine. :)

    Green Cheers,
    Posted 02-08-2021 01:33

Meena Pandey

  • Meena Pandey says :
    Hello Geumbee,
    Thank you for this wonderful report. I enjoyed reading it. I loved the way you have organised the article with pictures.

    I want to give you a kind reminder to fill this form which will take just a minute so that we can get connected in the coming days too.

    Form link : http://forms.gle/G2Qa9iXjhDXxcWcr9

    Posted 01-08-2021 00:01

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