They are defined to be a renewable source, emitting the least amount of carbon when compared to their non-renewable competitors. Biofuels are derived from animal and plant wastes.
Bioethanol, Alcohol Derivative
Bioethanol, an alcohol derivative, is the most abundantly available biofuel which is produced globally, by the fermentation of sugars found in corn, sugarcanes, etc. It can be also used as an alternative to gasoline, after making some modifications in the vehicle engine. According to Francisco Boshell, a technology analyst and author of a 2017 International Renewable Energy Agency report, with ‘the right selection of the right raw material about 12 per cent of transport fuel could come from renewable sources by 2030.’ Bioethanol is considered a reliable substitute, but the transition may not be as smooth as expected.
What is the Price to Pay?
But, nothing in the world comes without a price. The usage of bioethanol as fuel will cause excessive consumption of food crops, water, and fertile pasture, for the production of the fuel. A 2016 study stated,' contentiously, bioethanol is mostly produced with domestic crops and, altogether, biofuels rely on about 2-3 per cent of the global water and land used for agriculture, which could feed about 30 per cent of the malnourished population.'
Experts are trying to develop ways to sustainably utilize the fuel up to its maximum efficiency and potential, without compromising the valuable resources.
Agave, the New Fuel?
Tequila plant might provide cleaner fuel. A recent study by an international group showed that agave plant, which consists of high levels of sugar, is found in native to arid regions of America. The plant is the base ingredient in the production of Tequila. The study shows this can be a promising alternative. The study, published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, stated, ‘Agave could be a promising bioenergy feedstock given its potentially high productivities, ability to thrive in semiarid regions, high water-use efficiency and low requirements for nitrogen fertilizers.’
In comparison with the other sources, such as bioethanol from sugarcane and corn, Agave shows promising results, which can also promote environmental conservation. The plant is now being grown as a fuel source on the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland, Australia. Associate professor Daniel Tan assure that it can be easily grown in unfavourable conditions and is not even a major crop, hence it does not affect the food supply for the local population, and the water supplies. It can grow in semi-arid areas without irrigation, and it does not compete with food crops or put demands on limited water and fertilizer supplies. Agave is heat and drought tolerant and can survive Australia’s hot summers,’ he says.
Lead author Dr Xiaoyu Yan who led the lifecycle assessment, said, ‘The results suggest that bioethanol derived from agave is superior to that from corn and sugarcane in terms of water consumption and quality, greenhouse gas emissions, as well as ethanol output.’
The data from the study showed that sugarcane yields 9900 litres of fuel per hectare per year, which when compared to agave is more. But the agave performed much better in ranges of other measures, including freshwater eutrophication, marine ecotoxicity, water consumption, and carbon emission. Agave needs 69% less water than sugarcane and 46% less water than corn for the same yield. These results are very promising. There is research going on to upgrade the process to meet the current demands of hand sanitisers, and other disinfectants.
Daniel Tan also stated, ‘The economic analysis suggests that the first generation of bioethanol production from agave is currently not commercially viable without government support, given recent the collapse in the world oil price. However, this may change with the emerging demand for new ethanol-based healthcare products, such as hand sanitisers.’
Data and Statistics: Geographical
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