Biofuels 101

by Peter Kay on January 6, 2012

Biofuels are a renewable energy source produced from organic matters. The two main biofuel products are ethanol and biodieselEthanol is usually made from corn and it is a type of alcohol (ethyl alcohol). In order to produce biofuel using ethanol, it is usually mixed with gasoline resulting into a greener fuel. Hence, there are different levels in the mixtures depending on the level of Ethanol.

An E10 biofuel means that the mixture is 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline whereas E15 means 15% of the fuel is ethanol and 85% is gasoline. The highest percentage level of ethanol is E100 and it can be found in Brazil which is actually the country with the highest production of ethanol estimated at 16 billion of liters on an annual basis that comes mostly from sugar cane.  In the US the most common ethanol mixture is the E10 which can be used in new vehicles without any engine modifications (check your user’s manual to confirm) and reduces the country’s dependency on fossil fuel imports.

Biodiesel is mixed with diesel petroleum fuel in order to produce a greener fuel. The blend level,  similarly to ethanol, is indicated by the first letter of the greener fuel i.e. B followed by the  percentage level of mixture. Thus a B10 indicates a 10% level of biodiesel and 90% of petoleum diesel with B100 being what is called pure biodiesel.  The most common blend is B20 and is often confused as being biodiesel by many. Biodiesel is made from new or used vegetable oil and animal fats and it is used on diesel powered vehicles with the most common material being soybean oil.  In order for used oil to be used as biodiesel it has to undergo some processing so as to be purified and to filter out any unwanted residue that can damage the engine. This process is relatively easy and it can be performed even at home with the right equipment. As with ethanol new diesel vehicles might need minor modifications in order for you to be able to use biodiesel as oppose to older ones that might need extensive modifications and might not even worth the cost of it. Nowadays as biodiesel popularity has increased it has gone from being initially a homemade fuel to a product that you can find at the gas stations.

Biofuels can help to reduce green house gas emissions with a recent UK government publication declaring that biofuels can reduce emissions “by 50-60% compared to fossil fuels”. Moreover studies have indicated that biofuels and biodiesel create new energy. Biodiesel that comes from soybean has been proved to be more efficient than ethanol. In specific, biodiesel produces twice the amount of energy that it consumes to produce it. In the case of ethanol the amount of additional energy is only 25 percent than the one that was used to make it. On the other hand, there are concerns that have been raised, in the case of ethanol, such as the price increase for corn. In addition, there are fears that it will increase the need for more arable land with negative consequences on the environment.

Scientists now have placed their hope in second-generation of biofuels to eliminate any current negative consequences, which will process the cellulose found in many plants. This should lead to far more efficient production using a much greater range of plants and plant waste. If this happens it will make biofuels a major candidate to replace fossil fuels as vehicle fuels.

About the Author

Peter Kay

Peter is a data analyst with over a decade of experience in environmental data analysis. He is a renewable energy sources supporter with his main areas of interest being biomass and energy recovery methods such as waste to energy. Peter is an editor in and most of his article can be found under the biomass/biofuels category. He is also a contributing editor in where you can find useful information and tips on how you can help the environment and save money at the same time. You can connect with Peter @ Google+

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