One of the hottest new topics around is biofuels.
But, what are biofuels? Can they save the planet? Can your vehicle utilize them?
It’s a complex topic, but we’re here to help.
Let’s hop into it! We’ll show you everything you ever wanted to know about biofuels, where they come from, and if they’re the right choice for you and your uses.
So, What Are Biofuels?
While they only now seem to be really hitting the market, the truth is that a few varieties of them have been around since cars have been around.
The oil industry has a lot of pull, however, and at the beginning of the 1900s, cheap gasoline and other petroleum derivatives and a powerful oil lobby put them on the back burner. Interest has begun to resurge as people have become more environmentally conscious. They’re also more aware that oil is a limited resource in the long run.
The easiest way to define them is as renewable, biologically-sourced components.
While there’s some assertion that the Model T was originally designed to run on ethanol — one of the most common biofuels — that doesn’t seem to be true. Henry Ford was quite adamant that sooner or later we’d source our fuel from organic matter, however.
The most commonly utilized biofuel, apart from ethanol additives to everyday gasoline, is known as biodiesel. While the future of using ethanol as a fuel isn’t quite cut and dry, it would appear that biodiesel is here to stay.
Biodiesel is produced from waste oils. Commercial kitchens and other big sources of waste oils are an environmental concern in their own right, so it’s good to have a way to keep the energy moving.
Are There Any Disadvantages?
The biggest thing that concerns the end consumer, especially with ever-increasing ethanol additives to gasoline, is how it will affect them. The truth is that ethanol additives, combined with the rising prices of gasoline, have made many consumers unhappy.
The main reason is that ethanol contains less potential energy. This lower rating means that fuel economy has gone down.
There are two main varieties of ethanol mixed fuel. E15 which is fine for most vehicles to run without modification and E85 which is available primarily in the Midwest and requires a flex-fuel vehicle.
Biodiesel, on the other hand, can run in any diesel engine. At least for a time. There’s some concern that it’s more corrosive on certain parts which are usually safe to run with diesel, particularly rubber components such as hoses.
The biggest concern for most people is that biodiesel ends up being more expensive than mineral diesel. That cost may come down in the future. But, as it stands, pure biodiesel runs at about $.85 more per gallon than standard diesel.
What Does the Future Look Like for Biofuels?
The outlook for biofuels is remarkably good. The biofuel industry had a $168 billion market as of 2016. Where there’s money to be made, there are always going to be people coming and going.
The biofuel industry is actually older than the oil industry itself. Ethanol and methanol have been used as fuel since distillation was first discovered.
There also some exciting new developments coming along on both sides of the supply chain. The EPA, for instance, is pushing for increased use of biofuels and even some of Big Oil is getting in on the act with algae-based biofuel. While the technology turned out to be something of a bust, it may be possible to reignite it in the future.
The truth is that new biofuels are being studied all the time, so it’s hard to say that the industry is going under. Ethanol and biodiesel alone are enough to hold the industry up for the time being.
Essentially, the future is looking pretty bright.
Using Biofuels Today
Much has been made of the fact that ethanol contains so much less energy than the majority of petroleum fuels. It also requires some pretty big differences in cars, especially when it comes to ignition timing.
For example, E85 finds itself currently able to be used only in flex-fuel vehicles. You can find E15 at pretty much every pump across the nation, though.
Biodiesel, on the other hand, is still more expensive than mineral diesel. It has roughly the same energy capacity but there are some things that need to be ironed out.
The esters in the oils can make using higher percentage biodiesels a bit iffy, especially on older vehicles which might already have their rubber parts going bad. Anything built prior to 1993 should have their rubber replaced before you begin using high percentage biodiesel.
The problems with both are surmountable, but unless your vehicle is specifically made to use biofuels you may run into some problems. Conversion is possible for most modern vehicles, however, so not all hope is lost.
Environmental Benefits of Biofuels
The biggest thing which biofuels have going for them right now is that they’re sustainable. The effects of our entire civilization running out of the corn, wheat, and vegetable oils used to produce them have much more dire consequences than just not being able to fuel up.
They’re also designed to run in a carbon neutral matter.
Both are fairly energy-intensive to produce. But in the end, more efficient systems may be exactly what we need to make them viable as a primary fuel source in the future.
A Bright Future, Not a Flash in the Pan
What are biofuels?
They’re one of the main measures going on to save the planet right now. Since they pull carbon back out of the system and don’t have the intensive effects of oil drilling, many are hoping we can make the switch entirely.
This isn’t some hippy, green technology. Imagine a future where logistics can create their own fuel from waste, where fuel for internal combustion engines actually becomes sustainable, and where clean-burning fuel is used everywhere.
If you want to learn more about biofuels, then we recommend you check out our page on them. There’s a lot to learn, and knowing is half the battle.