Bioenergy and Biofuels for a sustainable future

Bioenergy and Biofuels for a sustainable future

Susmita Giri and Ram Chandra Poudel 10th September 2020

Background

Energy sources play a vital role to perpetuate modern life on earth. In the current global scenario, non-renewables are the primary source of energy in the form of electricity, cooking, and transportation fuel. These resources have created a burden on the environment, such as climate change, global warming, biodiversity loss, ozone layer depletion, and a rise in sea level. Also, it is the fact that energy demand is increasing every year, which will soon lead to the energy crisis due to the depletion of fossil fuel sources. As an alternative, bioenergy and biofuels are renewable energy sources which are one of the potential, affordable, and environmentally friendly green energy for a sustainable future.

Bioenergy is sustainable and has great potential to reduce conventional fossil fuels use. Theoretically, it is considered as environmentally friendly as the carbon dioxide produced during the utilization of bioenergy is taken up by the newly cultivated plants as a carbon source. It can be used as heat energy, electricity, transportation fuels, and cooking gas.

Global Scenario of Bioenergy and biofuels

Bioenergy and Biofuels are the emerging energy source in Europe. Therefore, many European countries, such as German, Denmark, Sweden, and Austria have already emphasized the development of bioenergy. It has already been replacing fossil fuels and nuclear plants significantly in Europe and some other parts of the world. It can make a significant impact on global sustainable energy systems. Many renewable energy companies focus on research and development of bioenergy. At the same time, companies are creating a significant number of green energy jobs at all levels.

According to IEA (2020), approximately, bioenergy contributes approximately one-tenth of the global total primary energy supply. Direct combustion of solid biomass is the predominant method to produce energy in the form of heat. However, the modern form of bioenergy excludes the traditional biomass use as practised in many developing countries. Also, many industries use solid biomass to generate electricity on a large scale.    

Sources of Bioenergy and Biofuels

Biomass is the source of bioenergy and biofuels, which includes all the non-fossil organic materials such as all carbon-containing energy forms and land and water-based plants and organisms. It is primarily generated from non-edible plant biomass such as lignocellulosic biomass and primary agricultural products, such as maize, sugarcane, rapeseed, and sunflower. The other sources of biomass are derived from algae, forestry residues, animal waste, pulp and paper mill waste, garbage, and household waste from the kitchen, animal fats, crops, and so on. Most of the bioenergy sources are locally available and therefore, can facilitate the demand of the consumers cost-effectively.

Types of Bioenergy and Biofuels

Bioenergy and Biofuels are in the forms of solid, liquid, and gas; the production and utilization of which have been increased extensively over the last decades. The solid forms include firewood, charcoal, and pellets as the energy source. Similarly, biofuels are produced mainly as bioethanol and biodiesel in the liquid forms; while biogas and syngas are the gaseous forms of biofuels.

There are four types of biofuels depending upon the types of biomass. The first-generation biofuels are produced from food crops and other food biomass, such as sugarcane, vegetable oil animal fats, and corn. Lignocellulosic biomass such as agricultural residue is utilized to generate second-generation biofuel. Similarly, the third generation biofuels are produced from marine algal biomass; while the fourth generation includes the genetically modified plant and microbial biomass to produce biofuels.

Applications of Bioenergy and Biofuels

Biofuels are viable replacements to petroleum or transportation fuels in the current situation as it can be used in existing combustion engines without modification. These sources of energy can be produced commercially, and it is also affordable to switch from traditional energy to bioenergy. Bioenergy can be promising for energy security with suitable agricultural conditions.

The sources of bioenergy are sustainable and reliable in comparison to fossil fuel as crops can be replenished by cultivating every year. In contrast, fossil fuel requires millions of years to form, which is almost impossible to replete the demands of energy sources every year. Biofuels are new norms to replace traditional fuels; for instance, biodiesel can be used in place of gasoline and diesel to run the transportation, bio-jet fuels can replace conventional jet fuels successfully.

Similarly, bioethanol can be used as a mixture of gasoline to run the vehicle or solely as a replacement for gasoline as well. Molasses, a byproduct that forms when sugarcane converts to sugar, is a good source for bioethanol production.

Biofuels not only replenish the energy sources but also provide enumerable employment opportunities in the agricultural field. It will also improve the lifecycle of energy supply and gentrify the area which will help to enhance the lifestyles and economy of the local people. With proper management, the bioenergy sources do not harm rainforest and biodiversity because it is cultivated locally in a particular region.

Negative consequences of Bioenergy and Biofuels

It is said that “Every coin has two sides”, biofuels can also have significant cons along with pros. Despite knowing tons of significance of bioenergy still, some criticism has been roaming around the globe such as food security, land use, rainforest conservation, biodiversity conservation, and affordability. Also, it has created some questions regarding the costs and efficiency of its initiation and running. However, it is convenient and equally efficient as other sources of energy. These criticisms are futile because the food will always be the priority. However, the production of third and fourth generation biofuels will increase in the future.

Possible Actions

For this, the governments should make appropriate policies to balance the food supply chain and ecosystem. Still, it all depends on how we plan the energy production and utilization. So, it is crucial to make specific policies and certifications regarding power generation and use without harming the quotidian life of humans, animals, and plants: overall, the ecosystem.

The use of traditional biomass energy has led to emerging circumstances that are most hazardous to human health, among which air pollution is the one with awful repercussions. The most immediate measure to mitigate air pollution and its negative effect is by adopting modern bioenergy and biofuels, including other renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy. Due to abrupt climate change, hundreds of thousands of species have undergone extinction and thousands of which are still vulnerable to the threat. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to replace all the traditional biomass usage as an energy source along with fossil fuels by renewable energy including modern bioenergy and biofuels to fulfil the United Nations Sustainable development goals seven, i.e., clean and affordable energy for all.  

Conclusion

To end this all, we have to ponder upon the new feasible and righteous ways, where bioenergy is an effective solution. The production and utilization of biofuels not only increases energy security, farm income, and jobs but also reduces greenhouse emissions and other harm to the environment. Bioenergy and biofuels can make a significant environmental and socio-economic impact. Thus, the effective production methods and utilization process of bioenergy will contribute to the development of a sustainable future. For this, it is imperative to make proper plans and policies and their suitable implementations around the globe.