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How is the Current Energy Crisis Changing How We Look at Biofuels?

A paper recently published in the journal Energies discussed the prospects of biomass and biofuels in the rapidly evolving energy scenario.

Study: New Insights into Biomass and Biofuels in Rapidly Changing Energy Scenario. Image Credit: Jan von nebenan/Shutterstock.com

Background

The energy sector, specifically the oil and gas industry, is experiencing significant volatility due to several factors, including climate change, the need for decarbonization, and the Ukraine-Russia war, leading to an increase in energy prices.

Although the growing energy prices will reduce the energy demand in the short term, they will eventually increase fossil fuel usage in a worst-case scenario due to a lack of immediate alternatives.

Fossil fuels have traditionally dominated the energy sector. However, the current volatility in the energy market, coupled with political and social pressures, has increased the importance of the bioeconomy and environmental sustainability, leading to a greater focus on new technological alternatives, such as solar energy, hydrogen, and biofuels.

Biomass-based fuels have failed to gain attention as a mainstream energy source, excluding niche markets such as the United States of America (USA) and Brazil. However, they are now considered one of the emerging sustainable energy alternatives to fossil fuels to address the rising energy demand, social inequality, and climate change, specifically in less developed countries.

The Study

In this paper, the author reviewed a number of studies to assess the role of biomass and biofuels as energy sources in both the long- and short-term by investigating the use of biomass for heat and electricity generation and biofuels for transport.

In a recent study, the use of different Populus clones as energy crops was thoroughly analyzed. Specifically, the study assessed the potential of short rotation coppice (SRC). SRC plantations are considered to be a partial solution to biomass-based fuels and already play a crucial role in countries such as Sweden.

However, this study demonstrated that SRC is not a feasible alternative from a climate change, social, and environmental perspective as it is extremely site-specific and can lead to loss of foo2d production. Moreover, the use of large areas for SRC plantations only to generate energy is economically unviable compared to agroforestry residues and woody biomass that are more abundant and acceptable than SRC.

Researchers also identified the need for more technical analyses and feasibility studies to determine the true potential of different biomasses obtained from energy crops to generate heat and electricity. However, extensive use of SRC is necessary to perform these studies and analyses, which is considerably challenging.

In another study, researchers evaluated the feasibility of using sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs), including costs, biomass availability, and conversion processes/technologies. The paper critically assessed the SAF production in Brazil based on the production of corn, sugarcane, soy, and eucalyptus. Biomass-to-aviation fuel conversion technologies primarily depend on feedstock characteristics.

The findings of the study showed that SAF production in Brazil is cheaper compared to other countries owing to the good availability of local resources. However, concerns remain about the feasibility of energy crop plantations due to high costs, the need for large plantation areas, and long distances to plantation sites.

Thus, the industrial and plantation costs must be reduced along with the biomass production costs through planning and coordination to create a conducive environment for SAF production.

Moreover, issues related to logistics, feedstock sustainability, and technical processes in SAF production must be addressed to effectively reduce carbon footprints and gain consumer confidence.

Currently, all leading airlines have displayed significant interest in SAF due to increasing pressure to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality. SAF can substantially reduce emissions in certain conditions.

In recent years, the production and use of SAF have increased significantly despite high costs, and fuel is expected to meet a notable share of global aviation fuel demand by 2030.

The maritime transport system (MTS) plays a crucial role in world trade and is primarily responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides.

Thus, significant investments are required to develop alternative engines and sustainable fuels for MTS. The fuel quality requirements in maritime transport are substantially lower compared to aviation transport.

In a study, researchers evaluated the potential of maritime biofuel production from forestry and agriculture in the USA, South Africa, Europe, and Brazil considering economical, geographical, and logistical aspects.

Researchers used an innovative methodology by combining a techno-economic analysis, seasonality, logistic integration, and a georeferenced analysis to assess the capabilities of a region to become a potential maritime biofuel supplier.

However, the study has several limitations that must be addressed in the future. For instance, the feedstock availability assessment study did not consider the use of biomass in other hard-to-carbonize sectors such as industry and aviation.

Similarly, a partial economic analysis was performed and the choice of fuel transport mode was based on the proximity to the infrastructure in place of the main transport stations, which can increase the cost of fuel transportation. Moreover, the overall impact on land use and energy due to the replacement of traditional maritime fuels with biofuels needs more investigation.

Another study specifically focused on maritime biofuel production in Brazil. The country has three MTS markets, including fluvial, coastal maritime, and long-distance international maritime transportation.

Although alternative fuels, including electricity, hydrogen, nuclear energy, and liquefied natural gas, were considered, the focus of the study was biomass-based fuels, specifically fast pyrolysis bio-oil (FPBO), which is considered a serious alternative to MTS.

Researchers investigated the end use and production of feedstocks, most feasible alternatives, potential FPBO applications in Brazil, thermal conversion technologies, and biofuel properties.

The findings of this study indicated that engine modifications are necessary for using biofuels in heavy and light vehicles. Thus, more research and development efforts are required to meet the fuel quality requirements of MTS and modify the diesel engines to replace the existing heavy fuels with biofuels. Brazil can play a leading role in facilitating the use of biofuels in the marine sector due to the country’s significant research efforts, historical experience, and potential.

Conclusion

To summarize, the studies reviewed by the author in this paper demonstrated several untapped opportunities for biofuels in the aviation and marine sectors in certain conditions as well as biomass for electricity and heat generation.

However, addressing the issues identified by the author is necessary to realize the true potential of biofuels. The substantial advances in science and technology can assist in overcoming all existing issues and make biomass and biofuel a viable alternative to fossil fuels in the future.

More from AZoM: What is Glow Discharge Optical Emission Spectrometry?

Source

Rosillo-Calle, F. New Insights into Biomass and Biofuels in Rapidly Changing Energy Scenario. Energies 2022. https://www.mdpi.com/1996-1073/15/18/6664

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Samudrapom Dam

Written by

Samudrapom Dam

Samudrapom Dam is a freelance scientific and business writer based in Kolkata, India. He has been writing articles related to business and scientific topics for more than one and a half years. He has extensive experience in writing about advanced technologies, information technology, machinery, metals and metal products, clean technologies, finance and banking, automotive, household products, and the aerospace industry. He is passionate about the latest developments in advanced technologies, the ways these developments can be implemented in a real-world situation, and how these developments can positively impact common people.

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