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Stocks and Environmental Impacts
Biomass, refers to living and recently dead
organic matters that can be used as renewable biofuels. It excludes
coal or petroleum as they are not renewable.
Biomass resources include
Wood wastes from forestry and industry
Municipal green wastes
Dedicated energy crops:
short rotation (3-15 years) coppice (eucalyptus,
sugar crops (sugar
cane, beet, sorghum)
starch crops (corn, wheat)
oil crops (soy, sunflower, oilseed rape, jatropha,
Organic wastes and residues have been the main
biomass sources so far, but energy crops are gaining
in importance and market share. Residues, wastes,
and begasse are primarily used for heat and power
Sugar, starch and oil crops are primarily used for
Biomass is mainly used to produce
energy in three ways:
direct-burning, fuel blending as in co-firing, and gasification.
Co-firing systems simply replace parts of the coal burnt in existing
power plant furnaces with biomass. It has the advantage of emitting
less toxic and greenhouse emissions than coal.
Gasification is the most efficient way of using biomass.
involves co-firing wood with coal, or mixing ethanol (as
practiced in US and Brazil and the EU) or biodiesel ( as in
Malaysia ) with conventional petroleum based fuels.
Bio-ethanol is an
excellent biofuel substitute for gasoline as the main car fuel.
world leaders in biofuel development and use are Brazil, United
States, France, Sweden and Germany.
US and Brazil are the top world producer of ethanol,
they produce 70% of the world's
total ethanol. But Brazil is the largest exporter of ethanol
while US is a net importer.
Top Biofuel Feed Stocks
Globally, biofuels are most commonly used to
generate energy to run vehicles and generate heat for homes and
for cooking. Biofuel industries are gaining enthusiasm due to
their cleaner and renewable nature as source of energy, amidst a
concerted global effort to combat climate change. There are
three categories of feedstock, namely the first, second and
third generations feedstock. Traditional or first generation
feedstock are coincidentally food crops like maize, corn,
sugarcane, oil palm and rapeseed/canola.
There are two common
methodologies. One involves the yeast-aided fermentation of
feedstock high in sugar or starch (sugar cane, maize, corn,
sweet sorghum or starch ) to produce ethanol.
The second is to extract
oil from oil crops ( oil palm, soybean, algae, jatropha), reduce
their viscosity by heat and burned directly in a diesel engine,
or they can be chemically processed via transesterification
(with sodium hydroxide as catalyst ) to produce fuels such as
biodiesel. Biodiesel is the most common biofuel in Europe.
Brazil is the
leader in sugarcane ethanol fuel and the
largest exporter of ethanol. Ethanol is an excellent substitute for
gasoline, the main car fuel used around the globe. Most of Brazil's
sugarcane plantations are on pasture lands, and rain-fed, making it
the world's most efficient producer of sugarcane.
Energy from sugarcane ethanol generates 8.3 times more energy per
hectare than corn ethanol.
A report released by Oxfam in 2008
concluded Brazilian sugarcane ethanol though "far from perfect" is
the most favorable biofuel in the world in term of cost and GHG
Major cultivation region: Brazil
Maize / Corn:
United States and Brazil
major cultivation regions
Sugarcane and corn bioethanol account for the major
share of global biofuels production.
the US, the largest world producer of corn-based ethanol,
an ethanol program has been recently
launched and its justifications being eliminating additives on
gasoline and cutting down on global-warming gases. In Western Europe, wheat and
beet-based ethanol are also used. In these countries, the cost of
ethanol is four times that in Brazil. Internal subsidies
and customs barriers are imposed to protect local industries,
imports from Brazil.
Corn, which is the biggest ethanol crop in the United States, is not
considered very efficient, because the energy gain from producing
corn-based ethanol is relatively low. By comparison, crops like
sugar cane, jatropha, and palm oil are considered more efficient in
terms of net energy gain.
The search for a
feedstock to produce
higher sugar content
is going on
fervently so as to
viability of the
The University of
trial planting a
type of tropical
maize. It is very
lush, tall and full
of sugar in its
stems. Trials also show that tropical maize requires much less
nitrogen fertilizer than conventional corn, and that the stalks
actually accumulate more sugar when less nitrogen is available.
Nitrogen fertilizer is one of major costs of growing corn. The
release of nitrous
oxide from its usage
will cause global
warming effect as it
is one of the
grows taller than
traditional corn and
Earless Corn could
have enormous impact
on US ethanol
cultivation regions are EU, China, Canada and
India. In Europe, rapeseed accounts for 80% of
biofuel production. Though not a food crop,
cultivation needs fertilizers and good soils.
Concerns of rapeseed as biofuel producing up to 70%
more greenhouse gas than fossil fuels were raised.
Findings by the University of Edinburgh show
increased levels of nitrous oxide emissions from use
of fertilizers. It also illustrated the importance
of ensuring that measures designed to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions were assessed thoroughly
before being hailed as a solution feedstock
Major cultivation regions: Indonesia, Malaysia.
Palm oil has a relatively high energy output.
Palm oil based
biofuel provides a high quality fuel blend with
fossil fuels such as petroleum to help meet the growing renewable
energy demand from developed countries like the European Union.
residual biomass are normally recycled to fuel extraction process. Use of palm oil as biofuel will
unavoidably increase its price as a staple food in Southeast Asia.
Once a favorite in the Netherlands
as a source of biofuel, but there is currently a call to
review the clean development mechanism (CDM) project assessments related to its use.
activities at palm plantations in Indonesia and
Malaysia discovered extensive deforestation and
excessive use of chemical fertilizers due to
increase in demand for palm oil. Lands for the
expanding palm plantations was often created by
draining and burning peat land, which sent huge
amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
They doubt that, in the quest
for greater agriculture output, if there is definite
greenhouse gas reduction benefits along the entire
life cycle of the feedstock.
Advantages of biofuel over fossil fuel:
It comes from a renewable resource against a finite
Raw materials, the crops, can be grown easily and thus
The fuel crops absorb the carbon dioxide in the air, thus
reducing the net carbon dioxide emitted during the ethanol
combustion on road use.
Blending ethanol with gasoline helps to
ease pressure on the ever depleting gasoline supplies and ensure
greater energy security, avoiding heavy reliance on oil producing
Bioethanol is biodegradable and far
less toxic than fossil fuels.
Need of energy crops may help to boost
the agriculture industries provided no deforestation is
By blending ethanol with gasoline, the fuel mixture
combust more completely and
reduces polluting emissions, improving vehicle performance.
Environmental Impacts and Drawbacks of Bioethanol as
A study by Nobel Prize winner
Paul Crutzen found ethanol produced from corn, and sugarcane had
a "net climate warming" effect. Two researches published in early
2008, from the University of Minnesota, and the Princeton
University, found that biofuels produced by fermenting plant-derived
sugars to ethanol (termed First Generation Biofuel) have many
The most significant being such production may actually
produce more carbon dioxide emissions than they save. Clearing
forests, peat lands, and grasslands for biofuel crops will
release carbon back to the atmosphere to cause greenhouse
warming as these plants are nature's means of carbon capture.
Since fermentation requires food crops such as sugar cane,
corn, maize, wheat, sugar beet, chances of food shortage and
food security will rise.
Food crop cultivation
involves energy-intensive sowing, harvesting, fertilizing and
distributing and generates almost as much carbon dioxide as is
being saved, and affecting water resource.
They are not cost competitive relative to fossil fuels
after the spike in food prices in 2007 - 2008 and the subsequent
crude oil price plunge.
'Full tanks but empty
stomachs' , 'Using good agricultural land as fuel for cars
instead of people is a stupid idea.'
are but a few of the fervent criticisms from environmentalists
bearing special reference to deforestation related food and
Environmentalist P. Jensen voiced his
opinion of the proper production of biofuels which depends very much on
the types of plants and how they’re grown and processed. You can end
up with a 90% reduction compared to fossil fuels — or a 20% increase.
“It’s important to take a life-cycle view,” and
not to “just see what the effects are here in Europe.”
Until recently, European
governments had sought to lead the rest of the world in the use
of biofuels, aiming to derive 10% of Europe’s transportation
fuels from biofuels by 2020. But the allure has dimmed amid
growing evidence that the kind of goals proposed by the European
Union are contributing to deforestation, which speeds climate
change, and helping force up food prices.
Britain, one of the biggest proponents of increased biofuel
use, will adopt a more cautious approach and slow down the introduction of biofuels,
until the evidence is clearer on environmental and social effects of
biofuels, said Ruth Kelly, the British transport minister. (NYTimes July
Meanwhile, advocates of biofuel look
forward to Second-Generation Biofuel for long term success. Scientists
are developing technology to use inedible cellulose fibers. Currently the cost to produce cellulosic ethanol is too high to be
The director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a
1997 co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics,
has strongly advocated research into solar
power and advanced biomass, in particular biofuels made from
which won't compete for space with farmland. Chu has criticized
corn-based ethanol. Chu is now President Obama's secretary of energy.
Second Generation Biomass that is used for biofuel generation include:
End or byproducts of plants and animals; examples are
manure, garden waste, stems and branches of most plants, leaves, husks and other crop
Non-food crops such as switch grass,
jatropha, Chinese tallow tree, Florida aspen or popcorn tree and cereals
that bear little grain,
Industry waste such as wood chips, skins and pulp from fruit
Municipal sewage matters that are organic in nature
Jatropha has become a highly promising second
generation biodiesel feedstock with high yield. The
plant produces seeds that contain easily
extractable, inedible lipid oil that is used to
produce the fuel. Jatropha can be grown in a range
of difficult conditions, including arid and
otherwise non-arable areas, leaving prime areas
available for food crops. It needs little
fertilizers too. Major cultivation regions include
Zambia, India, Myanmar, Mali and the Philippines.
jet with one of its four engines running on a
biofuel blend completed the world's first commercial
aviation test flight with biofuel made from
jatropha. Air New Zealand said.
Dec 30, 2008)
Third generation biofuels
Algae fuel, is third generation biofuel. Algae are
feed stocks to produce biofuels. It produces 30 times more
energy per acre than land crops such as soybeans. Current progress
on algae fuels are still experimental and confined to the private
sector, and constrained by economic viability.
References and related news:
Renewable Energy - Biofuels: Knowledge.allianz.com
Biomass power plant proposed for Springfield,
Vt. Feb 10, 2009
DJ USDA Attache: Italian Firm To Build $1.3B
Biomass Energy Park
Jatropha's Promise: Ecoworld.com2008/07/07
Biofuels Yet to Take Root as Green
Alternative: Motoring.asiaone May 19, 2009