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What Is Biofuel?

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  • Written By: K.C. Bruning
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 16 September 2016
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Biofuel is fuel that contains recently dead matter as opposed to the ancient material that makes up fossil fuels. It can be made from materials such as plants, animal fat, oil, and sugar. The fuel can also be generated from specifically grown algae. It is non-toxic, renewable, and biodegradable.

When creating biofuel, alcohol, such as ethanol or methanol, is mixed with biological matter in order to cause the chemical reaction that gives it energy-generating properties. The fuel is typically combined with diesel fuel. The percentage of biological material in this kind of mixture can be anywhere from five to 50 percent of the fluid, depending on the practices of the region generating the fuel.

There are several claimed benefits to using biofuel. One of the most prominent is that it reduces the need for non-renewable fossil fuel. Its primary elements can be grown, whether via cultivation of algae or non-food crops or animal breeding. Biofuel also emits a lower level of carbon dioxide than traditional fuels. The fuel ignites at a much higher temperature than fossil fuels, thus increasing its safety, though it can also be problematic in colder climates.

One form of biofuel is bioethanol. This fuel is created via fermentation of sugar derived from plants. Though it can work on its own as an energy source, it has tended to be used more frequently as an additive to decrease the harmful environmental effects of burning gasoline.

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Biofuel is usually categorized into four generations of development. The first generation was typically used for biodiesel. It included ingredients such as animal fat, sugar, and, most commonly, crude vegetable oil. Second generation biofuel focused on the development of solids, or biomass, to create fuel. Farm-produced, high-energy algae was the primary focus of the third generation. Fourth generation development uses the accumulated progress of previous generations to create fuel.

While the production of biofuel has several economical, environmental, and social benefits, it has also been the source of some controversy. Though the quality of the fuel is continually being improved, it can still perform poorly in certain vehicles. It has also been difficult for developers of the fuel to generate a product of consistent quality. Other groups have voiced concern that growing crops for fuel will strain the resources of farmers who must also grow food supplies. There have also been concerns that the exponential increase in crops for fuel supplies will have its own negative environmental effect.

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