What are biofuels?
Biofuels are any transportation or liquid fuel made from biomass (organic plant material). This biomass has chemical energy which can be converted into fuel by various processes.
How much of the increase in the price of food is biofuels-driven?
The critical and major driver to higher food prices is the higher cost of fossil fuel. Other factors have also played big roles, including droughts that have limited the amount of anticipated agricultural output; rapid global economic growth that has created higher demand for protein-based food (meat); and, competition for oil in developing economies such as China and India.
What are some of the types of biofuels?
- Bioethanol or ethanol or fuel alcohol
I've heard a lot about ethanol - what is it?
Ethanol is the most commercially successful biofuel in the U.S. Most of the ethanol produced in the U.S. is made from corn. Corn ethanol is made from the starch in corn kernels, and by law is denatured with gasoline to make it undrinkable. Ethanol can also be made from gasification of carbon materials, which is a chemical rather than biotechnological process. Ethanol directly emits an average of 51% less greenhouse gas than gasoline, according to research from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
How is ethanol made?
Ethanol is commonly produced by using yeast to convert sugar into alcohol. In this process, a feedstock such as corn is ground into a powder. That powder is heated and liquified into mash. Enzymes breakdown the mash into fermentable sugars. Yeast is then added to ferment the sugars to ethanol. There are two byproducts. Fuel ethanol for cars and solid residue - called distillers dried grains - which can be used to feed livestock.
Is ethanol energy efficient?
Yes. It should be noted that fossil fuels are needed to produce ethanol. Oil is needed to harvest crops, transport the corn for processing, in the making of fertilizers and to transport the ethanol fuel. Still, only one gallon of oil is needed to produce 12-20 gallons of ethanol. Ethanol-enriched gasoline can power a car the same as regular gasoline. In fact, its performance is better in some categories. Today's cars are approved for fuel enriched with up to 10 percent ethanol and are warranted for its use.
Will ethanol benefit my car?
Yes. Ethanol is a high-octane premium fuel, which improves engine performance and prevents "knock." Ethanol, which is a solvent, can also keep components of your car clean.
Is ethanol safe to use in my car?
Ethanol is safe when blended with gasoline. Most cars are approved for fuels with up to 10 percent ethanol. Not all cars can use the higher blends, for example E85, which is 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline and is known as a flex-fuel vehicle or FFV. Increasingly, more of these cars are being manufactured in the U.S.
Will ethanol hurt my car's fuel system?
No. In fact, in the winter, cars can benefit from ethanol. Ethanol tends to absorb water, which helps prevent frozen fuel lines in the winter. Ethanol can also help keep your fuel system clean since ethanol is a solvent.
How does ethanol affect gas mileage?
All things being equal, E85 has lower fuel economy (by 10-25%). In E10, no measurable difference is noted.
Can ethanol be used in other vehicles?
Check your owner's manual, but most vehicles and power equipment will allow a mixture of gasoline and ethanol.
What are flex-fuel vehicles (FFV)?
Flexible-fuel vehicles run on blends of ethanol up to 85% (E85) or straight gasoline. Because E85 is hard to find, FFVs ability to run on straight gasoline makes FFVs more versatile.
Do flex-fuel vehicles cost more than cars that run only on petroluem gasoline?
FFVs cost about the same as their gasoline-only counterparts.
Does it take more energy to produce ethanol than it releases?
No. But it does take energy to produce energy. For instance, it takes 1.22 units of fossil energy to produce gasoline. Meanwhile, it takes 0.76 units to produce ethanol. The result for ethanol production is 40% less fossil energy than gasoline. Even less fossil energy is needed to produce ethanol if renewable energy is used in processing it. In Brazil, ethanol contains eight times the amount of energy necessary to create it.
What ways can you transport ethanol?
Ethanol is transported via truck, train, and barge. Ethanol is not transported through pipelines. Ethanol, unlike oil, mixes with water. Water accumulation is prevalent in pipelines. Unless pipelines are cleaned and made watertight, transporting via pipeline is risky. As ethanol supply increases, making pipelines watertight is economically viable.
What is cellulosic ethanol?
Cellulosic ethanol is produced from the fiber contained in leaves, stems, and stalks. Unlike ethanol from corn and sugar, cellulosic ethanol comes from plant material that is not used for food.
What is its potential?
Cellulosic ethanol contains more energy at potentially less cost than corn ethanol once the process for manufacturing is commercially proven at scale. Currently, the biggest hurdle to large-scale cellulosic biofuels is finding the capital to build these facilities.
Is it cost-effective to make ethanol?
The two greatest costs in making ethanol are the feedstock and the natural gas needed to process it. Currently, ethanol production in the United States is cost competitive.
What is biodiesel?
Biodiesel is a clean-burning alternative fuel produced from fats or non-petroleum oils through a refining process called transesterification. It is mostly made from crops with seeds that contain oil or from waste products such as old fryer oil or trap grease. Biodiesel can also be produced from lignocellulosic materials through biochemical or thermochemical processes. Current and potential crops for biodiesel include soybeans, canola (rapeseed), woody biomass, energy grasses, and algae.
What are biodiesel's benefits?
Biodiesel can be blended at any level with petroleum diesel; it can be used in compression (diesel) engines without major modifications; it is simple to use, nontoxic, biodegradable, and virtually free of sulfur and aromatics; it is the only alternative fuel to have fully completed the health effects testing requirements of 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments; and the meal remaining from crushed oilseed crops can be used as an animal feed.
What are its drawbacks?
It is a solvent that requires special storage, and cold weather can affect high percentage blends: B99.9 will begin to turn to gel (between 32-36 degrees F) and will clog fuel filters between 22-28 degrees F.
How do I address this problem?
The fuel rarely gels while the engine is running, and fuel is circulating through the system. Though starting your car on a cold morning can be a challenge, you can add heat, petroleum, or a winterizing additive. The easiest solution during winter months is to use a B80 blend (80% biodiesel/20% petro-diesel). To avoid using petroleum, you can use a cold flow additive.
What is B20, B80, or B99?
These are biodiesel-petroleum blends. B20 is 20% biodiesel, B80 is 80% biodiesel; and B99 is 99% biodiesel. The remaining percentage is the amount of petroleum.
Do any changes need to be made to my engine to run biodiesel?
No. Biodiesel performs just like petroleum diesel. However, because biodiesel is a solvent, rubber fuel lines will degrade. To avoid this problem, change your fuel line to make them biodiesel-compatible.
Is biodiesel better for the environment than petroleum?
Yes. Biodiesel contains no sulfur and is virtually carbon neutral. Its nitrous oxide production is inconclusive.
How does biodiesel compare in power and efficiency?
Biodiesel compares favorably: it contains as much as 5% BTUs per gallon compared to petroleum diesel.
Can biodiesel be used in any engine?
Biodiesel can power all diesel engines. If you own an older car and your fuel line is rubber, it will need to be replaced. This is an inexpensive fix. Biodiesel does have a detergent effect and will clean your tank and lines. This sludge will be captured in your fuel filter. However, when biodiesel is first used and is having this cleaning effect, fuel filters will need to be changed more frequently.
How do I store it?
For the most part, the same storage and handling procedures for petroleum apply for biodiesel: a clean, dry, dark environment. Storage tanks should be constructed of aluminum, steel, fluorinated polyethylene, fluorinated polypropylene, and Teflon. Avoid copper, brass, lead, tin, and zinc.
How much petroleum do we use?
The U.S. is the largest oil importer in the world at roughly 13.5 million barrels per day. Oil from the Persian Gulf accounts for 20 percent of U.S. oil imports and continues to grow. By 2017, the U.S. will be importing approximately 68 percent of its oil needs.
What are the consequences of our dependence?
The consequences could be dire for the U.S. economy, national security, and our quality of life. In his 2006 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said, "we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world." This instability characterizes every major oil province: the Middle East, Venezuela, and Africa.
What can we do about it?
Practically, motorists can use more fuel-efficient vehicles, select and use flex-fuel vehicles and fill up with higher blends of biofuels, opt for public transport, or use other vehicles that reduce petroleum consumption.
What are the benefits of using biofuels?
Biofuels can help prevent climate change, improve the U.S. economy, and reduce the countries strategic need for imported petroleum.
How do biofuels reduce climate change?
The main contributor to the greenhouse effect is carbon dioxide. Fossil fuels contribute to this effect because fossil fuels are unearthed and burned, emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Biofuels, on the other hand, are made from plants that absorb carbon dioxide to grow. Using biofuels recycles the carbon dioxide already present.
Do biofuels leave a carbon footprint?
Yes, fossil fuels are used during the production of biofuels; so, biofuels still have a carbon footprint, albeit considerably less than petroleum fuels. Compared to gasoline, ethanol reduces global warming emissions by 20%, cellulosic ethanol by 85%, and biodiesel by 40%.
Why does cellulosic ethanol leave a lesser carbon footprint?
Cellulosic ethanol leaves a lesser carbon footprint because less fossil fuel is needed to produce it. Farming cellulosic biomass also requires less energy than corn. Finally, year-round crops store carbon in the soil through their roots, and many have extensive root systems.
What is the potential for the biofuel's industry in the U.S.?
Studies estimate that producing enough ethanol to replace 25% of current gasoline use would add about $200 billion to the economy and create one million new jobs.
How would the biofuels industry affect petroleum markets?
This is a complex question with no simple answers. Global demand for oil is expected to increase as developing economies such as China and India require more energy. An increase in US biofuel output and consumption should result in relatively lower prices at the pump by comparison to not having alternatives to purchasing oil on the open market due to the competitive nature of pricing.
Will we have enough land for food if we grow biomass to produce fuel?
Yes. Currently, there is an agricultural surplus, not a food shortage. Analysts have found that the U.S. could replace one-third of its oil supply with biofuels and still have enough food to meet continuing demand within the country. Also, the future of biofuels includes relying on biofuels not used as a food source. For one, energy grasses have more energy potential than corn. It should also be noted that corn ethanol is made from corn grown for animal feed and a co-product of corn ethanol is distillers grains, a high-protein source of animal feed; corn ethanol produces fuel and food.
What impact will the biofuels industry have on rural areas?
Rural areas will benefit greatly: biofuels are essentially bulky and lightweight, making transporting them challenging. To save in transportation costs, ethanol facilities are typically constructed near their source of biomass. Building facilities in rural areas brings more capital investment to growers and rural towns. In fact, to reach 50 billion gallons of ethanol production, at least 1,000 production facilities will need to be created, an investment of roughly $100 billion.
Will the biofuels industry create new jobs?
Yes. The biofuels industry has created thousands of new jobs nationwide, most of which are located in the Midwest because of the large number of corn ethanol facilities in that region. In North Carolina, a burgeoning biofuels industry has the potential to provide similar economic gain for the state’s rural communities. A study conducted by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at UNC-Chapel Hill estimated the creation of over 3,300 new jobs by meeting the state’s policy goal of having 10% of the state’s liquid fuels grown and produced internally. In addition, the development of the biofuels sector in North Carolina will enrich the state’s agriculture and forestry sectors through the creation of new markets for farmers and landowners.
Will the biofuels industry have a large economic impact on North Carolina?
Yes. Replacing 600 million gallons at current fuel prices ($3.00 per gallon) would keep $18 billion in circulation in the state that would otherwise leave our economy. Also, most of the jobs being created by the biofuels sector are in rural North Carolina, which are the poorest counties.
Is North Carolina’s investment in developing the biofuels sector a sound use of state resources?
Yes. In 2006, state leaders from a wide range of vantage points recognized North Carolina’s untapped promise in the newly emerging biofuels sector and concluded that the state is remarkably well-positioned to gain some internal production of its fuel needs. Much of the state’s existing infrastructure and industry—including our academic institutions, farm and forest resources, and biotechnology companies—provide North Carolina with immense
potential in the biofuels sector. Like any new technology, increased capability in biofuels must be sustained by ongoing state commitment, policy, and leadership. North Carolina’s commitment to biofuels has already paid dividends through the emergence of biofuels companies choosing to locate in North Carolina.
Will the growth of the biofuels sector negatively impact food prices?
No. North Carolina’s Strategic Plan for Biofuels Leadership states that the growth of the biofuels sector in the state will target non-food crops, including energy grasses and woody biomass, and will not be based on corn feedstocks. On the national level, there are continuing concerns that the increased production of corn ethanol is adversely impacting food prices. However, a number of recent studies conducted by governmental agencies, universities, and other entities conclude that the increasing use of corn for ethanol production plays a negligible role in the recent rise in U.S. food prices. Additionally, the fact that food prices continued to rise while agricultural commodity prices decreased in the second half of 2008 demonstrated that farm products play a minor role in retail food prices.
Will the development of biofuels promote fuel independence?
Yes. Global demand for oil consumption is projected to grow significantly by 2030. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that despite a sluggish economy, global demand for oil reached record levels in the third quarter of 2010. By 2030, the amount of petroleum imported into the U.S. is estimated to rise to 70%. North Carolinians currently use over 5.6 billion gallons of petroleum fuels annually. Local biofuels will reduce the state's dependence on imported fuel, and thereby reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil.
Are biofuels safe to use in automobiles?
Yes. Ethanol is a high quality, high octane fuel for exceptional engine performance and reduced emissions. Ethanol has been used since Henry Fordd designed his 1908 Model T to operate on alcohol. Ethanol-blended fuels are approved under the warranties of all auto manufacturers selling vehicles in the United States. In North Carolina, approximately 90% of retail service stations sell E10, which is gasoline blended with 10% ethanol. For consumers who wish to use higher ethanol blends, such as E85, flex-fuel vehicles are required. Consumers with diesel vehicles can run biodiesel with no modifications to the engine.
Can ethanol blends be used in other motorized equipment?
YES and NO. Most mainstream manufacturers of power equipment, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and outboard motors permit the use of ethanol blends in their newer products. However, for older pieces of motorized equipment consumers should verify that an ethanol blend can be used without causing harm to the engine.
Do biofuels provide the same amount of fuel economy as traditional petroleum-based fuels?
YES and NO. Vehicles running on E10 experience no drop in fuel efficiency. Flex-fuel vehicles running on an E85 ethanol blend generally experience a 20–30% reduction in miles per gallon because of ethanol’s lower energy content. Biodiesel can be used in its pure form (B100) or blended with petroleum diesel. Common blends include B2, B5, and B20. Those vehicles running B20 may see a 2% drop in fuel efficiency, while vehicles running B100, a slightly higher reduction in fuel efficiency may be noticed (10%).
Are flex-fuel vehicles that run on biofuels cost-competitive with traditional vehicles?
YES. Flex-fuel vehicles cost about the same as their gasoline-only counterparts.
Is the production of biofuels energy efficient?
YES. Ethanol from corn or biomass feedstocks has a positive energy balance. Although fossil fuels are needed by agriculture to produce ethanol, the energy balance is still a net-positive. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ethanol yields 67% more energy than is used to grow and harvest the grain and process it into ethanol. The Argonne National Laboratory reports that cellulosic ethanol energy inputs are between 88–100% better than gasoline, depending on the type of feedstock. The energy balance for biodiesel yields over twice as much energy generated than is needed to produce it.
Do biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants?
YES. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, use of E85 will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 20%. Next-generation
ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70%. Biodiesel also results in significant greenhouse gas emissions—from 15% to 75%—depending on the blend. Ethanol and biodiesel also reduce other harmful air pollutants. The American Lung Association reports that ethanol-blended fuel reduces smog by 25%.
Is the amount of water needed to produce biofuels sustainable?
YES. The production of biofuels is, like many other industrial processes, water intensive. It takes approximately three gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol. However, it takes 44 gallons of water to refine a gallon of gasoline. It is consistent with smart business planning to make siting decisions for biofuels production facilities by accounting for water availability and stable aquifers. In addition, because of technology developments and other advances in recent years, the amount of water needed for biofuels is decreasing.
Should North Carolina view its biomass resources as a strategic asset?
YES. North Carolina has over 18 million acres of forestland and over 8 million acres in agricultural land—over 85% of which is owned by private landowners. In coming years, North Carolina’s forest and farm lands will be under increasing pressure to provide multiple services; these services include providing the raw materials for the traditional forest products industries and providing ecological benefits through ecosystem services, such as water supply and wildlife habitat. In addition, emerging markets such as the biofuels sector, biomass power generation, and the export of wood pellets for electricity generation will all place demands on our state’s forest and farm lands. North Carolina should ensure that sound policies are in place to maximize the value of the state’s biomass resources while ensuring its continued sustainability.
Does the biofuels industry receive governmental incentives?
YES. At the federal level, there are various tax credits and production incentives for the biofuels industry. For an emerging industry, these incentives are critical to providing stability and helping to attract capital investment. These incentives are not unusual compared to other governmental programs in the energy sector. For example, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, the federal government provided over $132 billion in subsidies to the oil industry over the past 30 years. In North Carolina, the state renewable fuels tax credits are an important component of keeping the state competitive as it works to attract biofuels facilities.