How Do Biofuels Work

How do biofuels work? Biofuels have entered the spotlight as a potential alternative fuel; however, they have not yet entered the mainstream. This Q&A can help you decide if biofuel is a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

What is biofuel?
Biofuel is a fuel made from biological mass rather than fossilized sources. From vegetable oil to animal fat, biodiesel, a form of biofuel, is created via a chemical reaction with the fats inside the biological source. Through a process called transesterification, the raw fat and oil is blended with a methanol or ethanol, plus a catalyst like sodium hydroxide. This resulting chemical reaction creates esters and glycerol. The glycerol is a byproduct, and the esters become the biodiesel. Other forms of biofuel, such as bioethers, can be made using the fermentation process of basic plant matter, such as soybeans and rapeseed.

How does biofuel work?
Once the fuel is extracted from its biological origins, it can be used to make power, steam and heat. The fuel must be combusted to release its energy-therefore biofuels involve some burning process that creates emissions. However, these liquids are clean-burning and put out fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuel. They are also considered a renewable fuel, as animal and plant life can be constantly renewed, unlike fossil fuels.

Can you give a real-life example?
To get a good look at how biofuels work, consider biodiesel. Biodiesel is a blend of standard diesel and a commercial-grade biodiesel. Both are in liquid form and are meant to burn inside a car engine with internal combustion. The engine provides heat, and the blended fuel makes for a cleaner burn. A diesel engine for a standard car doesn't need to include any modifications to use biodiesel. While different blends may work better on a diesel engine, the vehicles are able to take on biodiesel fuel without an expensive conversion process.

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