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Alternative energy, the gateway to the future and the wiping away of the reliance on limited resources of fuel. Oil, is a limited resource and it is something world needs constantly. Transportation, heat, and power, are all fueled by this substance. With everyone drawing from a well eventually it will run dry. While some look to the sun, Hydrogen or to electricity to power vehicles, a quicker solution would be to look to nature itself. Biomass and Biofuels exist all around us and they have within them an unlocked potential.
Biomass, comes from living or recently alive organisms. Biomass or biological material more often refers to plant or plant-derived materials. This renewable form of energy can be harnessed through two separate means. The first process is through combustion. The second process is build on top of the first. After the biomass goes through the combustion process, the biomass can be further refined into different forms of “biofuel” There are three forms of combustion that can be used to convert biomass into a useable form of energy. Thermal or heat conversion is the process of using heat as a primary mechanism to convert biomass to biofuel. Chemical conversion has a range of different sub processes within it, but gasification is the most common form. Biochemical conversion makes use of nature’s natural way of breaking down materials through the use of enzymes and other microorganisms. From here the fuel can be separated into two different categories, first and second generation. First generation biofuels came from sugarcane, corn starch and other things from nature. The sugars within these fuels are used in the production of bioethanol. Bioethanol can be used in fuel cells and be serve as an alternative to gasoline. Second generation biofuels, consists Lignocellulose biomass or dry plant matter such as wood. While this is the more widely used biofuel technological issues prevent this source of biofuel from being used more often. Such issues as chemical inertness and structural rigidity must be further mastered. What makes second generation biomass a better form of biofuel is our ability to mass produce it. Such products as miscanthus, switch grass, corn, hemp, and bamboo can all be grown relatively quickly to support the fuel and energy industry.
All living things which make up biomass and biofuel go through what is known as carbon fixation which is part of the carbon cycle. Carbon dioxide along with other molecules such as nitrous oxide and water vapor make up what are known as greenhouse gases. In regards to carbon dioxide levels within the ozone layer it is said that a proper balance is required in order to stop further progression of global warming. There are two sides of the argument to whether or not biofuels can bring balance or further harm to the ozone layer. Research indicates that biomass fuel releases higher levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides then standard sources of coal and natural gas. The second theory states that biomass fuel will reduce further increase of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. Biomass is sometimes thought of as a carbon neutral source of energy. In other words the carbon dioxide from biomass is taken by other biological organisms through the carbon cycle.
In order to harness biomass fuel into ethanol, manufacturing and processing of biomass is obviously needed. Normally there are ten steps involved when it comes to the conversion of biomass product into ethanol or useable fuel. The obvious first step is one would need a storage facility to house all the biomass. The second step is known as the extraction process. The cane is crushed by a series of roller mills. The small fibers and extracts are then taken to be boiled to clean and purify the fibers and extracts into a thickened syrup like mixture. The starch is then put through hydrolysis process. Step five is the fermenting of the product with yeasts enzymes. Step six, carbon recapture process to lower the carbon footprint of the bioethanol. The final steps involve further cleaning processes followed by further storage for the fuel you have now created. From an economic stand point, the economic stand point is this process is actually more expensive then the making of traditional forms of fuel. Analysts also state that if we were to make the switch it would be improper and in a matter of years, this alternative fuel source would cost more than natural gas.
The steps taken to make biodiesel fuel are actually lower in count then that of the process to make bioethanol. Step one is the feedstock pretreatment. Recycled oil is processed to remove excess such as dirt, charred food and water. Within this process degumming to remove phospholids and other plant matter also occurs. Step two is the treatment of free fatty acids. Samples of cleaned feedstock oil is titrated with base solution to see if the sample contains vegetable oil samples. The acids are then either converted into biodiesels. After this the biodiesel is then sent through a purification process to separate the biodiesel from the byproduct.
With further testing and federal backing perhaps we can be free of our dependence on natural gas and foreign oil in the years to come. While current research states biomass fuel’s have its ups and downs, I believe we all can benefit from clean energy.
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