7 interesting points about next generation biofuels

Calorific values ​​and energy density of biofuels next generation DMF methane butanol iso-butaneDespite the continuous development of bioenergy in terms of its production technologies, infrastructure and life cycle assessment, there are still criticisms of some of the bioenergy systems. The critics focus primarily on certain Biofuels 1st generation. Criticism is just as necessary as showing potential. Here is a list of 7 points that we can still look forward to in the biofuels of the future.

The term "second generation biofuels" can also be read more and more frequently in the media and is primarily based on the following developments compared to the first-generation biomass-based fuels:

  • Focus on the use of biomass that is not used as food for humans
  • Development of new manufacturing processes to improve biofuels
  • Use of other chemical compounds and plant components
  • Improve the carbon footprint and ecological footprint

Here are 7 points, which give a little insight into the successor models of biofuels (see overview) give.

1. Thanks to higher production quantities per area, less area required for production

The future use of the whole plant or the separation of the food fruit from the remaining components for biofuel production means that less space is required to produce the same amount of fuel.

A convincing example of the decreasing space requirement is, for example Algae cultivation as the basis for the production of biodiesel and bioethanol. Algae can be grown in bioreactors that have more biomass growth per area due to their spatial dimensions. The required systems can also be installed on barren areas or industrial wastelands.

2. No more food needed

The "Tank or plate question" is a dark chapter in the biofuels discussion. Even if the one-sided criticism that biofuels are responsible for the high food prices or hunger disasters in the world certainly falls short (see e.g. Article on Western Farmers Press), nobody wants to contribute to such developments.

By using completely new energy crops or plant components and using areas that were previously unsuitable for growing high-quality food, the direct competition between food and energy crops can at least be greatly reduced. Examples are “cellulose ethanol” (from fast-growing grass or wood) instead of “grain ethanol” or biofuel based on algae cultivation.

3. Lower production costs for next-generation biofuels increase their competitiveness

The rapidly decreasing production costs are an important advantage that speaks for the next generation of biofuels. The cost advantage is not yet effective, but this article is also about the biofuels of the future. There are several points in favor of reduced production costs in the future.

Biomass (e.g. cellulose, hemicellulose), which is significantly less rich in high-quality nutrients, can be used for the upcoming biofuels. This makes it cheaper to buy than biomass with high protein or fat content, for example.

If we stick to one of the most promising of the “next generation biofuels”, cellulose ethanol, the costs for the enzymes necessary to break down the polysaccharide have been proportionally the highest and have made up around 50% of the total costs per liter.

Innovations by US companies Novozyme and Genencor in the area of ​​enzyme technology have reduced the manufacturing cost of 1 gallon (about 4 liters) of cellulosic ethanol from about US $ 4,5 to less than $ 2. See also the Article on the economic viability of industrial cellulose-ethanol plants the New York Times.

In combination with the increasing industrial production of second generation biofuels, optimized manufacturing processes and lower raw material costs, the total production costs are lower. Ultimately, this will also lead to a declining price for biofuels at the petrol station and further improve competitiveness vis-à-vis fossil colleagues.

4. Shorter transport routes strengthen the decentralized properties and flexibility of biofuels

This point applies above all on a global scale. The production of biofuels is too complex to be taken over by every district under economically justifiable conditions. Industrial production cannot therefore be avoided if competitiveness against fossil fuels is to be achieved as soon as possible. The international or even intercontinental transport of biomass could, however, be significantly restricted thanks to future biofuels.

The reason for this development will be the greater flexibility in the input materials used (e.g. wood, grass, waste, etc.). Discoveries in the fields of biotechnology (see article on enzyme technology) and the agricultural sector are widening together with new or newly discovered processes such as the Hydrothermal carbonization and the Fischer-Tropsch process form the basis for the production of biofuels.

This increases the chance that countries will also have their own biomass sources in the future, which would depend on imports of renewable raw materials or “finished” biofuels when using traditional manufacturing processes.

Furthermore, by increasing the production volume per hectare (see point 1), the required biomass can be obtained within a narrow radius around the biofuel refinery. This can reduce transport costs and environmental impact.

The next generation of biofuels will be more difficult to make, and more complex plants will likely be required.

5. Continuous harvest throughout the year with higher energy contents

The production and harvesting of the usable biomass raw materials is not only possible once or twice a year, as with previously cultivated energy crops for first-generation biofuels (e.g. rapeseed, rye, wheat, oil palm, maize etc.) but is theoretically about that distributed throughout the year and continuously conceivable.

The most innovative source for continuous harvesting periods are certainly the oils and carbohydrates from microalgae cultivation. The energetic use of microalgae grown in photoreactors or ponds has been intensively researched for around 20 years. The biomass of algae growing throughout the year and the targeted use has now passed the phase of basic research and pilot projects and is ready for commercial plants.

The use of grass and wood does not depend on the use of the plant fruit, but it can be harvested all year round and at the point when the energy operator thinks it is right.

New processing methods and additional chemical energy stores (isobutane, methane, etc.) also enable a higher energy density of future biofuels and longer ranges for the vehicles. The graphic above shows the different energy levels of 1st and 2nd generation biofuels.

I researched the values ​​of the graphic from various sources on the Internet and unfortunately they are not the result targeted study. If you know values ​​other than these averages, it would be very exciting to learn about them. When calculating the energy content of the later fuel, it must of course be taken into account whether it is a pure fuel or whether the biofuel is mixed in with a quota.

6. First industrial-size production facilities planned for 2011

The USA with its high fuel consumption is currently a major sponsor of the biofuels of the following generations. As far as I know, the Americans are, apart from the Swedes, also the only ones to have announced the construction of first plants for the new biofuels this year that go beyond demonstration plants. Below are two industrial plant projects that were announced last month and are expected to begin in 2011:

  • AE Biofuels will build a plant in Keynes, California, which is said to have an annual capacity of approximately 200 million liters of cellulose ethanol.
  • The Swedish pulp producer Domsjö Fabriker AB plans to build a plant in Örnsköldsvik. Although the plant is called a "demonstration plant", it has reached an industrial level with the target of 100.000 tonnes of bio DME and biomethanol per year from wood waste.

Verbio AG's bioethanol plants in Schwedt and Zörbig also produce the so-called by-product "Verbiogas" (see article), which is a biomethane obtained and processed from residues such as stillage and straw, which can be used as fuel in vehicles that use natural gas. This production principle thus combines the production of biofuels of the 1st and 2nd generation, whereby a high degree of energy use and a remarkable climate balance can be achieved by current standards. A good transition to point 7 ...

7. The ecological balance of biofuels is improved

A common criticism of some 1st generation biofuels is that they shouldn't have a better life cycle assessment than fossil fuels. This is certainly a highly complex topic and cannot even be dealt with in two sentences. The fact is that the next generation of biofuels (e.g. cellulose ethanol or BtL biodiesel) will have an even better carbon footprint than that of the first generation and up to 2% CO2-To save emissions to fossil representatives.

Conclusion on next generation biofuels

Despite the advantages, there are of course still challenges that have to be overcome in the production and use of biofuels.

With all sympathy for the next generation of biofuels, in my opinion it should also be avoided that the different biofuels are played off against each other, because each fuel can have its advantages depending on the location. The interaction of several generations of fuel means that the growing demand for them can be spread over several shoulders. The path to second generation biofuels is via first generation fuels. That is why, in my opinion, it is also worth forgiving the difficulties with the introduction of E2 and taking into account the experiences made with future biofuels.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has published a comprehensive paper (as of February 2010) on next generation biofuels can be read HERE.

What is your opinion on the development of biofuels and what potentials and criticisms do you see? Thank you for reading and special thanks to every commentator.

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