Facts and Definitions

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1.) What are biofuels?

Biofuels are liquid or gaseous fuels primarily produced from biomass, and can be used to replace some fossil fuels. Crops used to make biofuels are generally either high in sugar (such as sugarcane, sugarbeet, and sweet sorghum), starch (such as corn and cassava) or oils (such as soybeans, rapeseed, coconut, sunflowers, and palms). Ethanol and biodiesel are biofuels commonly used in transportation. Ethanol is produced from sugar and starch crops that are processed by yeast or bacteria-mediated fermentation, or from cellulose. Biodiesel fuels are extracted from oil crops with suitable solvents or through mechanical processing and conversion of oil into diesel fuel by a transesterification process. Other less commonly used biofuels include other alcohols and ethers, such as biobutanol, methanol, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), or ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE).

2.) What are 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation biofuels?

Biofuels are sometimes referred to as first, second, or third-generation biofuels.

First-generation biofuels are made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats using conventional technology. These are generally produced from grains high in sugar or starch fermented into bioethanol; or seeds that which are pressed into vegetable oil used in biodiesel. Common first-generation biofuels include vegetable oils, biodiesel, bioalcohols, biogas, solid biofuels, syngas.

Second-generation biofuels are produced from non-food crops, such as cellulosic biofuels and waste biomass (stalks of wheat and corn, and wood). Common second-generation biofuels include vegetable oils, biodiesel, bioalcohols, biogas, solid biofuels, and syngas. Research continues on second-generation biofuels including biohydrogen, biomethanol, DMF, Bio-DME, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, biohydrogen diesel, mixed alcohols and wood diesel.

Third-generation biofuels are produced from extracting oil of algae – sometimes referred to as “oilgae”. Its production is supposed to be low cost and high-yielding – giving up to nearly 30 times the energy per unit area as can be realized from current, conventional ‘first-generation’ biofuel feedstocks.

3.) Which countries use biofuels?

Globally, countries currently focus on different biofuel crops and conversion methods. Among the major biofuel producers, corn is converted into ethanol in the US, sugar cane into ethanol in Brazil, canola into bio-diesel in Europe, palm oil into biodiesel in Indonesia , and sweet potatoes and cassava into ethanol in China. [17] Brazil and the US produce the most ethanol in the world – more than four billion gallons per year each. [18] In most countries, biofuels currently account for a relatively small percentage of overall fuel and energy used. According to the IEA 2006 World Energy Outlook, biofuels are able to meet up to 4% of the world’s transportation fuel demand by 2030, under the reference case, up from a level of 1% in 2004.

Governments have expressed varying levels of interest in bio-energy use, based on current policy and future plans. Currently in Brazil, there are plans to be self-sufficient in energy by 2006[19], [20]. All gasoline must contain at least 20% ethanol, biodiesels are being developed, and flexible-fuel vehicles (FFV) have entered the car market in Brazil. More than 80% of new cars sold in Brazil were FFV’s during the first half of 2006[21]. Europe produced almost one billion gallons of biodiesel, increasing from 2004 by 65%. The EU has adopted a proposal to promote biofuel use, such that biofuels account for at least 2% of the market for gasoline and diesel sold as transport fuel by the end of 2005, increasing in stages to a minimum of 5.75% by the end of 2010[22]. China produced approximately 340 million gallons of ethanol in 2004, primarily from corn[23]. China’s government is supporting ethanol and cellulosic ethanol production. The US government recently committed to increase bio-energy by three times within 10 years. The Indian government has identified almost 100 million acres of land that potentially could grow jatropha[24]. The Australian government has a policy target of producing almost 100 million gallons of biofuel production by 2010.

4.) Can we actually use biofuels in cars and machinery?

Using biofuels requires fewer changes to transportation technology compared to other alternative energy sources that are in different physical states. Biofuels can be in the same liquid state of the majority of widely used, conventional transportation fuels. In spark-ignition engines, gasoline can be substituted by ethanol or methanol. In compression-ignition engines, biodiesel performs well as a diesel oil substitute according to performance tests. Using a mixture of gasoline and biofuel (i.e. 85% to 15% ratio) requires relatively little change to car engines, but still requires fossil fuels. However, existing engines need significant alterations in order to function using only ethanol or methanol fuel.

5.) How are rising food prices related?

There are convincing arguments about the extent rising food prices are linked to biofuel production and use.

Increasing food prices are MORE directly related to biofuels:

Recently there has been increased biofuel production and also rising food prices for food grains, feed grains, oilseeds, and vegetable oils. Thus far, nearly all biofuels are produced either from food crops or on land that could be used for food crops. Currently, corn is the main feedstock in the US ethanol industry; soybean oil is the main feedstock in the US and South American biodiesel industries; rapeseed oil is the main component of biodiesel in Europe; ethanol in Brazil comes from sugarcane; and biodiesel of Southeast Asia comes mainly from palm oil[37]. In the US, the portion of the corn crop consumed by the ethanol industry has grown from approximately 5% to 25% during the past decade.

According to estimates from the International Food Policy Research Institute, assuming oil prices remain high, a rapid increase in global biofuel production is projected to cause corn prices to rise by 20% by 2010 & 41% by 2020. In sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America, cassava prices are expected to increase by 33% by 2010; and 135% by 2020.

Increasing food prices are LESS directly related to biofuels:

-Food consumption has also increased, which explains increasing food prices and counters the argument that food prices and expanded biofuel use are linked[40]. Rice and wheat – neither of which are used in biofuel production – have been consumed faster than each crop has been produced in the past few years.

-Food prices are influenced by many other factors, including economic growth (i.e. crude oil prices, exchange rates, growing demand for food and slowing growth in agricultural productivity), international trade, currency markets, oil prices, government policies (i.e. agricultural, energy, and trade policy of other nations) and bad weather.

-Increased demand of food is largely a result of population and income growth, as evident by the increasing total demand for agricultural crops and livestock products from 1967 to 1997.


Algae: Algae are primitive plants, usually aquatic, capable of synthesizing their own food by photosynthesis. Algae is currently being investigated as a possible feedstock for producing biodiesel.3

B100: Another name for pure biodiesel.3

Biodiesel: refers to a non-petroleum-based diesel fuel consisting of short chain alkyl (methyl or ethyl) esters, made by transesterification of vegetable oil or animal fat (tallow), which can be used (alone, or blended with conventional petrodiesel in unmodified diesel-engine vehicles.

Bioenergy: renewable energy made available from materials derived from biological sources. In its most narrow sense it is a synonym to biofuel, which is fuel derived from biological sources. In its broader sense it includes biomass, the biological material used as a biofuel, as well as the social, economic, scientific and technical fields associated with using biological sources for energy.1

Biofuel: defined as solid, liquid or gas fuel derived from recently dead biological material and is distinguished from fossil fuels, which are derived from long dead biological material. Theoretically, biofuels can be produced from any (biological) carbon source; although, the most common sources are photosynthetic plants. Various plants and plant-derived materials are used for biofuel manufacturing.1

Biomass: material derived from recently living organisms. This includes plants, animals and their by-products. For example, manure, garden waste and crop residues are all sources of biomass. It is a renewable energy source based on the carbon cycle, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal, and nuclear fuels.1

Bioreactor: A vessel in which a chemical process occurs. This usually involves organisms or biochemically active substances derived from such organisms.3

BTL: Biomass-to-liquid is a multi-step process which converts biomass into liquid biofuels. BTL is also referred to as second generation biodiesel production. There are many different methods of BTL, but many processes include Fischer-Tropsch, hydrogenation or pyrolysis.3

By-product: Substance, other than the principal product, generated as a consequence of creating a biofuel. For example, a by-product of biodiesel production is glycerine and a by-product of bioethanol production is DDGS.3

Cellulose: Fiber contained in leaves, stems, and stalks of plants and trees. It is the most abundant organic compound on earth2.

Conventional biofuels: Conventional biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel are typically made from corn, sugarcane and beet, wheat or oilseed crops such as soy and rape.3

Distillers Grains: Byproduct of ethanol production that can be used to feed livestock; alternatively distillers dried grains with soluble (DDGS).2

E10: Blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.2

E85: Blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.2

Emissions: Any waste substances released into the air or water.3

Enzyme: An enzyme is a protein or protein-based molecule that speeds up chemical reactions occurring in living things. Enzymes act as catalysts for a single reaction, converting a specific set of reactants into specific products.3

Ethanol: Alcohol containing four carbon atoms per molecule with about two-thirds the energy density of gasoline, mostly fermented from corn starch or sugar cane, also known as ‘grain alcohol.’2

Feedstock: Raw material used in an industrial process, like the production of biofuel. 2

Fischer-Tropsch Process: Method of producing liquid fuels, usually diesel fuel, from natural gas or synthetic gas from gasified coal or biomass. 2

Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV): Automobile capable of running on gasoline and high-ethanol blends interchangeably. 2

Fuel: A fuel is described as any material with one type of energy that can be converted to another usable energy.

Gasohol: Fuel blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline.

GTL: Gas to liquid. A refinery process which converts natural gas into longer-chain hydrocarbons. Gas can be converted to liquid fuels via a direct conversion or using a process such as Fischer-Tropsch.

Jatropha: Non-edible evergreen shrub found in Asia, Africa and the West Indies. Its seeds contain a high proportion of oil which can be used for making biodiesel.

Methanol: alcohol containing one carbon atom per molecule, generally made from natural gas, with about half the energy density of gasoline, also known as ‘wood alcohol.’

MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether): Ether created from methanol that can increase octane and decrease the volatility of gasoline, decreasing evaporation and smog formation.

Palm oil: A form of vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree. It is a widely used feedstock The palm oil and palm kernel oil are composed of fatty acids, esterified with glycerol just like any ordinary fat. Palm oil is a widely used feedstock for traditional biodiesel production.

Petroleum: Refers to any petroleum-based substance comprising of a complex blend of hydrocarbons derived from crude oil through the process of separation, conversion, upgrading, and finishing, including motor fuel, jet oil, lubricants, petroleum solvents, and used oil.

Rapeseed: Rapeseed (Brassica napus), also known as rape, oilseed rape or (one particular artificial variety) canola, is a bright yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage family). Rapeseed is a tradition feedstock used for biodiesel production.

Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS): Legislation enacted by Congress as part of the Energy policy Act of 2005, requiring an increasing level of biofuels used every year, rising to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012.

Switchgrass: Prairie grass native to the United States and known for its hardiness and rapid growth, often cited as a potentially abundant feedstock for ethanol.

Syngas: A mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) which is the product of high temperature gasification of organic material such as biomass. Following clean-up to remove any impurities such as tars, synthesis gas (syngas) can be used to synthesise organic molecules such as synthetic natural gas (SNG – methane (CH4)) or liquid biofuels such as synthetic diesel (via Fischer-Tropsch synthesis)

Thermal conversion: Process that used heat and pressure to break apart the molecular structure of organic solids.

Transesterification: Chemical process that transforms raw vegetable oil into bidiesel by separating out glycerin, which is used in soaps and other products.