What is a biofuel?

A biofuel is simply any fuel created from organic matter. Biofuel is becoming more important as an alternative fuel. The price of oil is increasing and energy security is driving the production of biofuel.

Algal biofuel production

A biofuel is simply any fuel created from organic matter.  Biofuel is becoming more important as an alternative fuel.  The price of oil is increasing and energy security is driving the production of biofuel.

Biofuels can be made from many organic products such as:

  • Corn
  • Sugar cane
  • Rape seed
  • Soya beans
  • Vegetable oils
  • Animal fats
  • Wood
  • Algae

These are a few of the sources for biofuel.  There are others that are currently being researched and tested.


Biofuels are a renewable source of fuel.  The energy comes from organic matter (biomass) that can be produced yearly unlike conventional fuels, which are finite.  This makes biofuel an attractive energy solution because we can keep producing what we need.


Types of biofuel:

There are 4 main types of biofuel.  Each have their own advantages and disadvantages.



Ethanol burns cleaner than conventional petrol emitting less carbon monoxide.  However, it has half the energy output of petrol.  It creates ozone: a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Also engines must be modified to run using this biofuel.



Biodiesel is comparable in energy output to regular diesel and burns much cleaner.  However, like ethanol, engines have to be modified as biodiesel rusts parts faster.



Methanol can be easily transported because it is a liquid unlike its gaseous alternative methane.  However, like ethanol it suffers from poor energy outputs of around half that of methane.



The main advantage to this biofuel is the fact engines do not need to be changed in order to run.  It also has slightly less energy output than regular petrol.


First generation biofuels:

First generation biofuels are made from sugar, starch or vegetable oil.  The biofuels we have looked at in this article fall into this category.

Food shortage:

There has been criticism against first generation biofuels as fuel is created from food that can be consumed by humans.  World food shortages are a big problem for millions of people.  Many do not see diverting food from the food chain for energy production as a responsible fuel solution.


Biofuels can be carbon neutral.  The crops grown for the fuel can offset any carbon emitted from burning these fuels.


Second-generation biofuels:

These biofuels are made from sustainable products.  They are still very much in development.


Research into these biofuels aim to increase the sustainability of production.  This can be achieved by increasing yields, improving efficiency and using non-food crops.  By using produce that would not go into the food chain there are no issues with food shortages.

Agricultural waste:

Using waste products has some great benefits for the environment.  Food waste can be a problem for disposal.  By using waste for energy production the overall yield and carbon footprint of these biofuels will improve.

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