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Second Generation Biofuels

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Second Generation Biofuels and Cellulosic Biofuels from Algae

biomass energy iconThe use of Biofuels is growing around the world as the demand for a greener and cleaner alternative to burning traditional fossil fuels grows. We have known for a while now that biofuels can help reduce the harmful greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels and it is expected that bioenergy products will become an important part of the global energy supply making a significant contribution to meeting the worlds ever increasing energy demand.

Scientists have long known how to convert various kinds of organic matter into a usable liquid fuel, called “Biofuel”. Over the years they have experimented with different energy crops such as various kinds of grasses, shrubs, trees or other herbaceous biomass and even some forms of ocean based seaweeds and algae, all of which have been grown and harvested specifically for conversion into different types of biofuel to power cars, boats, planes and the internal combustion engine to generate electricity.

second generation biofuels from algae

Second Generation Biofuels from Algae

However, the manufacturing of biofuel in large enough quantities has always been less convenient and more expensive than the burning of coal or oil. The cost of biofuel production can be decreased by using improved agricultural methods or by using different types of biomass feedstock. New technology and processes are the key factor to enhance both food and liquid biofuel production by increasing its output without the adverse economic and environmental implications of previous fuels creating what is now termed “second generation biofuels”.

While global bioenergy production has been ongoing and developing over the last several decades or so, the expanding biofuel industry has recently raised some important concerns about the sustainability of many “first-generation biofuels” that compete for spare agricultural land and also their impact on the world food prices of cereals and other starch rich crops, sugars and oil crops.

The main problem for many scientists and peoples around the world has always been how to develop a source of biofuels that does not complete with the worlds food chain and which is also low cost, sustainable and efficient in terms of energy production, carbon footprint and minimal environmental impact.

The development of sustainable, low-carbon fuels that avoids the conflict with food and increased land usage is now being sought with the development of what are called Second Generation Biofuels. These second generation biofuels are supposed to avoid all the problems associated with the “food versus fuel” situation of so called first-generation energy crops.

Second generation biofuels are bioenergy crops made from biomass feedstock with very little or no nutritional value, such as residue materials, agricultural and slurry wastes, or just by planting fast growing trees, shrubs and different types of grasses on what would otherwise have been unproductive waste land.

But the projected growth in worldwide biofuel production, mainly biodiesel and bioethanol seems to have stalled as oil prices dropped, fuel efficiency in cars improved and consumer interest waned. Also the conversion of the various wood biomass feedstock for sale into the more lucrative biomass pellet market has soared as consumer demand for cheaper domestic heating fuel has been a powerful driver of the renewable fuels market.

The potential market for bioliquid products is currently driven by government mandates and tax incentives which have been used in a number of countries to help spur on the development of second generation biofuels production in an attempt to reduce biofuel prices at the pumps. The enormous purchasing power of governments has also been used successfully in a number of countries to expand the market share for various bioenergy products. However, as energy prices increase, demand for bioenergy may become more price-driven.

The widespread use of fracking has also helped countries unlock new oil and gas reserves providing another alternative path to energy independence.

The continued development of bioenergy and bioliquid products means overcoming some of these challenges and a number of factors will ultimately influence the future of second generation biofuels. In particular the use of available arable land for their cultivation, more efficient agricultural production methods, and the development of more advanced biofuels technologies.

The various types of biofuels currently being developed consist of two broad groups of biofuel feedstock commonly referred to as “first” and the “second” generation feedstock as described below.

  • First Generation Biofuels – these are the original biofuels made from agricultural produced corn, soya, rape seed, vegetable oil’s, or animal and mineral fats using conventional bioenergy technologies and can be subdivided into two large categories: biodiesel and bioethanol.
  • Second Generation Biofuels – these are produced in processes which can use a variety of non-food type crops. Second generation fuels include waste biomass, wheat and corn wastes, woody cellulose and lignin polymers, as well as various animal slurries and liquid wastes making them more efficient and environmentally friendly.
  • Third Generation Biofuels – this is the latest in new technology made from lab based biochemical biomass crops such as perennial grasses, artificial bacteria’s, enzymes and living microalgae which require more funding, technology and processing to become commercially feasible on a much large scale. These biodegradable micro-algae crops do not harm the environment.

Not all biofuels are equal and there is beginning to be a distinction made between first and second generation biofuels. Today the development of second generation biofuel production processes based on the conversion of cellulosic resources, such as fast growing trees and grasses from non-food renewable sources that can help limit the direct competition that currently exists for the land usage between food or fuel, are starting to make a positive impact.

Although the development of “second generation biofuels” continues to grow and a better understanding now exists on the overall feedstock supply chain, whether from crop and forest residues or from biochemically grown micro-algae, the main focus is still on improving their energy efficiency when combusted. But bringing these bioenergy fuels to market is a slow and costly process so it may be some time before second generation biofuels are readily available worldwide. Even so, they are still seen as being important future contributors to the alternatives for fossil fuels.

However, even if second generation biofuels production processes can be economically scaled up to increase yields and make a significant dent in the millions of litres of conventional oil burnt every day, would the biofuel processing factories be able to get hold of the staggering quantities of energy crops and feedstock they require.

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While it is true that billions of tonnes of agricultural residue is produced worldwide each year, this dry matter is thinly spread around the planet making it expensive to both collect and transport.

Many environmental groups have also complained about the decisions to plant large areas of the countryside with fast growing trees, bushes and giant reed type grasses for biofuel production could destroy the local environment.

Their fear is that the seeds of these plants would spread throughout the local area turning them into highly invasive weeds. Then there is a new type of biofuel argument which now exists of “flora versus fuel”.

The world’s transport system has always been based on one single fuel: oil and today there does not seem to be any realistic alternative to our love of oil. The demand for oil is expected to grow for many decades to come, along with the overall demand for energy. Biofuels can help meet this demand as a substitute for either petrol (bioethanol) or diesel (biodiesel), and even if they do not replace oil completely, they can and should be regarded as an integral part of the worlds energy mix.

While it is recognised that biofuels have the capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels, their production and use are not entirely without environmental implications. Depending on the crop type and other factors, carbon emissions are not always lower than for traditional fuels. Also agricultural grown biofuels increase the level and volatility of food prices, with detrimental impacts on food security. But second-generation biofuels are on the road to changing these issues.

To learn more about Second Generation Biofuels and how you can use them to power your car and home, or to explore the advantages and disadvantages of using biodiesel and bioethanol as an alternative to conventional fossil fuel oils, then Click Here and order your copy from Amazon today about the production of various biofuels from non-conventional bio-feedstocks such as algae and vegetable oils.


1 Comment » for Second Generation Biofuels
  1. Greencat Greencat says:

    Encouraging new announcements and research regarding biofuels derived from algae demonstrate the biotech industry is on the right track in developing an algae biofuel solution.

    Last month, industry leaders gathered in Phoenix for the Algae Biomass Summit, the world’s largest algae conference. At the event, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced $2 million in funding for the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, a partnership between Science Foundation Arizona and Arizona State University. What’s more, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Algae-based Renewable Fuel Promotion Act to provide tax credits for production of algae-based biofuels.

    And new research from Colorado State University finds that the transformation of algae into a biofuel is more environmentally friendly than the process for petroleum diesel or soy biodiesel.

    “This study is the first to directly compare the complete manufacturing process of algae, petroleum biodiesel and soybean biodiesel,” said Professor Thomas Bradley, one of the lead researchers on the CSU project. “We made an apples-to-apples comparison and the results show that algae is net beneficial — it reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than soy biodiesel and is more scalable and it has lower energy consumption than soy biodiesel.”

    Facts and Findings
    Indeed, algae hold great promise for second generation biofuels development because they’re able to replicate rapidly and produce oils, proteins, alcohols and biomass. Oils produced by algae may someday replace fossil resources in many products. Much of the petroleum and coal we use today was produced thousands of years ago by a species of green algae.

    Friends of the Earth recently issued a report claiming that algae biofuels made more efficient by applications of synthetic biology won’t help solve the climate crisis. That group, the Center for Food Safety and other opponents of biotechnology denounced synthetic biology, but BIO counters that the concerns expressed by the groups are not science-based. Synthetic biology is an interdisciplinary endeavour based on the growth of genomic data and the increase in speed and efficiency of standard biotechnology techniques, such as DNA screening, synthesis and transfer. The application of biotechnology to algae is helping companies to address some of the limits of conventional algae production.

    Biofuel firms are now seeking to scale commercial production of algae using different approaches. In a closed system, engineers use photo-bioreactors or traditional bioreactor tanks to control algae growth.

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