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Biofuels in Vehicles to Rockets can provide cost competitive performance while reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions.

World economic growth will lead to strong energy demands and consumption.  U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest International Energy Outlook 2017 (IEO2017) projects that world energy consumption will grow by 28% between 2015 and 2040. Most of this growth is expected to come from countries that are not in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and especially in countries where demand is driven by strong economic growth, particularly in Asia. Non-OECD Asia (which includes China and India) accounts for more than 60% of the world’s total increase in energy consumption from 2015 through 2040.


Fossil-based fuels are just the remains of photosynthetic activity that once took place on the earth’s surface over hundreds of millions of years — when plants converted solar energy and carbon dioxide into biomass. The foremost shortcoming of using petroleum-based fuel is atmospheric pollution as it is a major source of air contaminants including NOx, SOx, COs, particulate matter and volatile organic compounds.  Hence, we are beginning to observe several adverse affects of this build up including global warming and increased incidences of asthma and pulmonary disorders. It is obvious that, since we are burning fuels at a pace far exceeding that of their creation, we will eventually exhaust them. By most estimates we have 50-100 years’ worth of oil and gas left under the earth’s surface. The search for renewable fuels is thus well motivated.


The rising oil prices also tend to  turn the energy consumers to more energy-efficient technologies and switch away from liquid fuels where possible. Renewables are expected to be the fastest-growing energy source, with consumption increasing by an average 2.3% per year between 2015 and 2040. Even though IEO2017 expects the nonfossil fuels (renewables and nuclear) to grow faster than fossil fuels, fossil fuels still account for more than three-quarters of world energy consumption through 2040.


Solar energy is the most abundant renewable resource available, and photosynthesis is a great template for how this energy can be converted into chemical energy (which is the energy stored in the chemical bonds connecting atoms together in matter). One way to capture this solar energy is biofuels. Biofuels are fuels, which are chemically similar to gasoline and diesel, but are produced by processing crops, algae or microbial culture. The carbon in biofuels comes from carbon dioxide that plants convert to their biomass through photosynthesis.


Biofuels are regarded as promising alternative to satisfy growing energy demands. Biomass derived biodiesel and bioethanol can be successfully utilized in modem vehicle engines with little or no modifications and thus contribute to lower combustion emissions in comparison to the former. Adequate production not only serves as long term replacement of fossil fuels, but it also offers novel opportunities to diversify income and fuel supply sources, promotes rural employment and notably helps in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


Primary sources of biofuels include soybean, corn, forestry, agricultural crops, also the waste from food services as well as ago industries. These fuels are available in solid, liquid, or gaseous forms and are chiefly used in various end use applications counting generation of energy, transportation fuels, lubrication & greasing, cooking purposes, charging of electronics and others. Some of the commercially used biofuels are biomethane, bioethanol, and biodiesel where in biomethane is manufactured by using domestic and agricultural wastes, bioethanol is produced from sugar beet, wheat, and algae. Further, biodiesels are manufactured using animal fats, algae lipids and vegetable oils.


Production of biofuel is drawing sound attention all over the world and its global production is over 35 billion litres . In 2009 Europe decided in its Renewable Energy Directive (RED) that every member state should have at least 10% renewable energy in transport fuel by 2020. Subsequent ‘national renewable energy action plans’ (NREAPS) suggested that almost all (9.4%) of this renewable energy in 2020 would consist of biofuels. 


Biofuel Challenges economic viability

A critical barrier to widespread commercialization and market competitiveness of advanced alternative fuels is the issue of scaling, supply of raw materials, additional costs related with need of biomass pretreatment processes. US efforts to use food crops as green fuel sources have been criticised for raising global food prices, eroding soil quality and increasing instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


Unfortunately, our energy needs far out-pace our ability to grown biomass to make biofuels for one simple reason, land area. There is only so much land fit for farming in the world and growing biofuels necessarily detracts from the process of growing food. As the population grows, our demands for both energy and food grow. At this point, we do not have enough land to grow both enough biofuel and enough food to meet both needs. The result of this limit has an impact on both the cost of biofuel and the cost of food. For wealthier countries, the cost of food is less of an issue. However, for poorer nations, the use of land for biofuels, which drives up the cost of food, can have a tremendous impact.

The energy balance for ethanol production refers to the energy used to grow and process the raw material into ethanol versus the energy contained in the ethanol itself. When cellulosic residues are used as raw mate¬rials, there is no doubt that ethanol production will have a strongly positive energy output. However, when cornstarch is used as a raw material, the energy bal¬ance is not conclusive. A 2005 study from Cornell University found that producing ethanol from corn used almost 30% more energy than it produced. In other words, you can’t produce a perpetual motion machine using biofuels because you lose the energy you invest in creating them in the first place. In fact, you can’t even break even.


“The Department of Energy is investing a lot of money into algae-based fuels, which are promising, but often the greenest fuels are also the most expensive ones,” says Emily Cassidy, a research analyst at the Washington, DC-based Environmental Working Group. Since it costs more to turn seeds, weeds, or beef trimmings into usable fuel than it does to extract fossil fuels from the ground and refine them, it’s all but impossible for the fleet to use substantial amounts of biofuels with crude oil prices are as low as they currently are.


That said, it’s not necessarily economics that have been holding back the wider use of biofuels, says Professor Chris Somerville, who holds the Philomathia Chair in Alternative Energy at the University of California, Berkeley. The greater problem, he says, has been producing enough of it. Despite the supply chain problems, biofuel is less competitive than fossil fuel ono price as the immature technique or high biomass costs. So government’s policy support is key to the survival of biofuel companies.


The cost of alternative fuels is heavily dependent on biomass availability, origin, and feedstock treatments. Finding more efficient energy crops and cost-effective materials for alternative fuel production, as well as, development of more efficient conversion technologies will lead to a significant cost reduction in the production of alternative fuels and increasing their competitiveness compared to fossil fuels.


Advanced fuels production promotes technology concepts, such as power-to-X, X-to-liquid and waste-to-energy, which facilitate the low-carbon economy development.Alternative fuel production will contribute to the realization of ’zero emission’ and ’zero waste’ concepts.


China plans nationwide use of biofuel petrol

By 2020, all petrol for vehicles will need to contain at least 10 per cent ethanol – a renewable fuel made from corn and other plant materials, according to a statement released by the National Development and Reform Commission, the National Energy Administration and other departments. The Chinese government is pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and investing heavily in electric cars. It has already introduced ethanol in petrol across 11 provinces, including Jilin, Liaoning and Guangxi. Other countries including the United States and Brazil require petrol to contain a certain amount of ethanol. The US and Brazil pioneered the use of ethanol as fuel but mainly produce it from corn and sugar cane. As well as using up stockpiles of corn, China wants to produce ethanol from cellulose – a plant’s stringy fibre rather than its seeds or fruit – in a “structural way” by 2025.


Some 5 per cent of the 170 million tonnes of corn and cassava China trades on the international market each year could generate 3 million tonnes of biofuel, according to the statement. But 30 per cent of its straw stalks and other agricultural waste could produce 20 million tonnes of ethanol.


“It will be killing two birds with one stone if China can turn one of the sources of pollution – straw stalks and farm waste – into biofuel,” said Han Xiaoping, chief executive of energy news portal “China could also reduce its dependence on oil imports with this plan in the long run.” Emissions from farmers burning waste after harvesting have been identified as a serious contributor to air pollution in the country, and the China Meteorological Administration now uses satellites to monitor these fires.


But Luo Yong, an environmental scientist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the plan for wider use of ethanol petrol could actually make pollution worse. “The process of producing ethanol petrol could also produce harmful emissions,” he said. “The result of this plan might not be as good as we think.”


Xiamen University energy policy specialist Lin Boqiang also doubted whether agricultural waste would be a practical source to make ethanol in the long run. “There is no incentive for farmers to cooperate with this policy because transporting a full truck of straw stalks could cost more than the price of the straw itself,” he said. “Oil companies also don’t want to use straw to generate ethanol because it takes much more straw than it does corn to generate the same amount of usable petrol,” Lin said. “Food products will remain the major source of generating ethanol in the foreseeable future.”


But Lauri Myllyvirta, an energy analyst at Greenpeace in Beijing, said the policy was the right direction for China. “The key challenge is making sure that any targets or mandates for using ethanol in transport do not lead to using edible raw materials,” he said. “This has been a problem in many other places that have set targets for biofuel use.”

Experimental rocket powers into sub-orbit on biofuels

Space startup company bluShift successfully launched its first rocket powered by biofuels in Feb 2021. The fuel, which are intended to be used to propel small satellites into space, was employed in a single-stage prototype that can only carry up to 18 lbs of payload and is designed to achieve suborbital space.


Stardust’s first launch carried three small payloads to an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) and then parachuted back to Earth. The entire flight lasted about a minute-and-a-half. Stardust 1.0 was designed by the Brunswick, Maine-based startup to be reusable, although it was still a prototype. However, its successor, known as Stardust 2.0, is expected to have an increased payload capacity. The fuels differ from traditional propellants in that they offer safety advantages during handling and ecological advantages during production and use.
The startup, which is backed by the Maine Technology Institute and NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research, has been working on its solid rocket biofuel since its formation seven years ago.


Biofuels for Military

Biofuels can also contribute to military renewable drive. Department of Defense (DoD) had embarked upon an ambitious program of expanded renewable energy generation on bases and in the field, with a goal of producing 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The three military-spec biofuel refineries in the US, which were financed by the US government under the Defense Production Act, are aiming to produce roughly 100 million gallons this year. For 2016, the Navy has purchased just under 80 million gallons of the 10/90 biofuel blend, about 6 percent of the 1.3 billion gallons of fuel the Navy uses annually. The Navy paid $2.05 per gallon, which is roughly in line with the cost of regular marine diesel thanks to robust biofuel subsidies.


Several successful test flights have been conducted with the Swedish air force’s JAS 39 Gripen using a mixture of fossil-free fuel.
Ongoing tests have shown good aircraft performance with the biofuel when compared to traditional jet fuel. Engine tests have been performed in order to study possible differences in performance and engine function when using a 50/50 mix of biofuel compared to performance in engines using only jet fuel. The tests showed that the engine using biofuel had unchanged performance both regarding thrust power and fuel consumption.


In the UK, algae, alcohol and household waste will power RAF fighter jets under bold Ministry of Defense plans to slash carbon emissions.
Aircraft including F-35s, Typhoons and Wildcat helicopters currently use conventional fuel, but could use up to 50 per cent sustainable sources in the future, after MOD’s changed aviation fuel standards came into effect in November 2020. The MOD’s move to allow up to 50 per cent sustainable fuel marks a huge shift in global fuel consumption and opens the door for thousands of civilian and military aircraft to be fueled with Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs).


Biofuels Market

The biofuels market size is expected to be worth around US$ 307.01 billion by 2030 from US$ 141.32 billion in 2020, with a CAGR of 8.3% from 2021 to 2030.

Growth Factors:

Growing demand for biofuel as environment-friendly fuel in the road transportation is major factor driving growth of the global biofuels market. This is mainly attributed to copious availability of bioethanol, biodiesel in significant regions across the globe. According to data published by the International Energy Agency, worldwide share of biofuel in the total transport fuel would raise up to 27% by 2050. Most of the developed as well as emerging economies worldwide are focusing on the production of biofuels in order to lessen dependability on fossil fuels is another factor which is expected to augment growth of the target industry over the forecast period 2021-2030. For instance, as per the data published in 2018 by Renewable Energy Directive, the complete European Union board for renewable energy sources feasting by 2030 has been elevated up to 32%.


Moreover, the benefits or advantages offered by the biofuels including least impact on the environment due to its clean and harmless nature, abundant availability with mandates are anticipated to propel growth of the global biofuel industry in the near future especially in the developing economies. Furthermore, energy sources among individuals worldwide, along with increasing government support for the production and research activities of biofuels across the globe are among major factors to fuel growth of the target industry in the next few years. Additionally, changing lifestyle and increasing focus on using high percentage biofuel blends are propelling in the global industry growth.


Regional Analysis:

In 2020, North America dominated the global market with a market share of more than 36%. U.S. represented the highest share in the North American region primarily due to availability of abundant feedstock for the production of biofuels, along with the favorable government policies for the biofuel production in the region. Further increasing awareness regarding usage of renewable biofuels is another factor to contribute the high market share of the United States over the forecast period.


Further Europe was the second important market in the biofuel. The growth of the biofuel industry in the countries of the Europe is attributed to growing adoption of the biofuels in the road transportation applications. Further, supporting policies for the use of biofuels by the European government in the European region is also expected to boost the demand for biofuels market in the near future.


Asia Pacific is anticipated to grow at the maximum CAGR of around 8.5% in the forecast period due increasing implementation and focus on the government regulations in account to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions in the countries of the region especially in India, China and Japan of the region. Latin America and the African and Middle Eastern region will display noticeable growth over the forecast period.


The major companies functioning in the worldwide biofuels are Abengoa Bioenergy S.A., VERBIO Vereinigte BioEnergie, DowDuPont, Inc. Archer Daniels Midland Company, BTG International Ltd, Renewable Energy Group, Inc., Wilmar International Ltd, POET LLC, Cargill, My Eco Energy, China Clean Energy Inc. among others.


References and Resources also include:


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