Biofuel Energy Information Home Page
Biofuel is a largely untapped source of energy that is derived from biological materials such as vegetable oil or plant matter. Biofuel energy is renewable, as the plants it comes from can be replanted, and could eventually replace fossil fuels as fuel prices rise to unprecedented levels. Ethanol and biodiesel are both popular alternative fuels that are gaining popularity.
You may have heard of this fuel source and not even realized it. If you've seen the news clips of people running their vehicles on waste oil used in fast food restaurants, you've seen one of the more popular biofuels. Biodiesel can be created from a number of types of vegetable oil, and only requires a small amount of processing to prepare it for use in a diesel engine. It must be heated and filtered before it is ready for use. Biodiesel is largely untapped, as only around 10 percent of waste vegetable oil is currently recycles.
Ethanol is another popular biofuel. This renewable fuel source is created from the fermentation of plant matter in a process similar to that used to brew beer. It is most easily produced from plants rich in starch and sugar like corn and sugarcane. Vehicle engines can be retooled to run pure ethanol or it can be used as an additive to regular gasoline.
The number one benefit of biofuel is the fact that it is created from biological matter than is easy to grow. Instead of using rapidly declining fuel sources, it uses sources that can be harvested and replanted time and time again.
While there are some greenhouse gases released as it's burned, the emissions are reduced in comparison to that of fossil fuels. The CO2 released while burning biomass fuels is consumed by the plants grown to create the fuel. The plants consume the CO2 and release oxygen, helping to clean the air in the process.
The best way to look at it is to consider the fact that every unit of biofuel used is one unit of fossil fuel saved.
As more biofuel is needed, so is more land to grow the biofuel. This land can be farmed repeatedly, but it will eventually be exhausted. If biofuel becomes a viable fuel source and a lot of farmers switch over to biomass crops, food prices may rise as competition for space heats up. Biofuel is already being blamed for food shortages and rising prices in some areas of the world. Both of these problems can be offset by sustainable farming and rotation of crops.