What Are the Different Types of Biofuel Technology?

Jacob Queen

Some types of biofuel technology are actually rather ancient, such as the burning of wood for heat, while others, such as algae biodiesel, are relatively state-of-the-art. The big thing that separates different kinds of biofuel technology is generally the way it is processed. Some biofuels, such as wood, are used with relatively little processing, while others require special processes to extract anything usable. Some people expect a drastic increase in the use of biofuel technology as an energy source, but others think the technology’s inherent limits will work to doom it in the long run.

A large field of rapeseed, which is used to make biofuel.
A large field of rapeseed, which is used to make biofuel.

The most primitive types of biofuel technology involve simply taking parts of plants and other bio materials and burning them. One well-known example of this would be the use of wood to heat homes. Another example that works a little differently is the burning of dung from farm animals. These kinds of biofuels are mostly used for heating, but there are a few other possible uses involving ways of harnessing energy from the heat expended in the burning process.

Some diesel-electric locomotives have been converted to run on biodiesel fuels.
Some diesel-electric locomotives have been converted to run on biodiesel fuels.

Another common kind of biofuel technology with more expanded possibilities is the fermentation of plants to produce ethanol. This is very combustible and works well as a vehicle fuel. The plant mainly used for this is corn, and there are many corn crops planted strictly for this purpose.

Corn crops may be planted strictly for the purpose of biofuel technology.
Corn crops may be planted strictly for the purpose of biofuel technology.

Biodiesel is somewhat similar to ethanol in the sense that it uses plant matter, but it relies on oils and fats instead of sugars. Its main advantage is that all the technology needed is already widely in use. Any diesel engine can basically burn biodiesel without any major modification. There are some small adjustments that some people make when changing regular diesel vehicles over to this fuel, but it’s generally doable with very little effort. With ethanol, flex fuel vehicles are needed to fully take advantage of it.

There are a few different advantages and disadvantages with biofuel technology, and there is a lot of argument about the ultimate potential of biofuels. Some people feel that the inherent limitation of land usage will make it impossible for biofuel technology to ever be a primary energy source. There are also concerns over the cost and energy required to produce any significant amount of biofuel.

Some people who favor increasing funding for biofuels argue that scientific discoveries might allow people to make more efficient use of these technologies in the future, which could ultimately make them much more viable. For example, algae-based biodiesel has shown a much higher yield of fuel in relation to land used compared to other biodiesel sources.

Algae may be used for biofuel production.
Algae may be used for biofuel production.

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