Bio-fuel: the solution for the energy crisis?

Since the dawn of civilization, energy is something humans have always craved for. The people of the stone age ‘discovered’ fire and have never looked back since then. Now we live an era where we do not know where to look to satisfy this uncontrollable human greed for energy; more commonly known as fossil fuel. 

In the early days as we gradually evolved, the amount of fuel we consumed gradually increased. It was firewood that was the main source of fuel in the household and even in castles. After the Industrial revolution, the usage of coal skyrocketed. Human beings realized the potential of ‘fossil fuel’ and simply looked for more sources of it to meet the demand. 

Fast-forward to the present day and guess what; we are in trouble. Now we have almost no places to look for fossil fuels or ‘non-renewable’ sources of energy. In our near future, all sources of fossil fuel will be drained. The usage fossil fuel is convenient. Human beings had become so accustomed to the usage of fossil fuels that they thought that it would last forever. As the demand always exceeded the supply, the amount of fossil fuel decreased at an unprecedented rate. Regardless of the fact that people are aware of the current crisis, the significant amount of fossil fuel continues to be exhausted. Many concerned scientists have been looking for alternative renewable sources of energy to meet the human demand for energy. 

Bio-fuel was one alternative energy resource that was proposed, as it is a renewable source of energy. Now it is being used as a source of fuel predominantly in Brazil which practices an agro-economy, and USA. They have understood the potential of bio-fuel and invested in its research and development. During the early days of bio-fuel, it was made of the food product maize, more commonly referred to as corn. The type of bio-fuel where food product is used to make bio-fuel is termed as ‘1st generation bio fuel’. 

1st Generation Bio-Fuel
As Brazil and USA had a strong agricultural sector it was something that they could run a beta test on. It was successfully used to fuel the peoples’ cars and the public gradually grew more confident in using biofuel. As time passed as usual, problems were identified. Now the bio-fuel industry was competing with the food industry. We were compromising on the food industry to find a solution for the energy crisis. While many people pass away due to hunger in certain countries, food was being used to produce fuel so that people’s cars can go smoothly on well tarred roads. A solution had to be found. The type of biofuel where food product is used to make bio-fuel is termed as ‘1st generation bio-fuel’.
2nd Generation Bio-Fuel
As expected the solution was 2nd generation biofuel. Here instead of the food product directly being used as the source of feedstock for the biofuel, the residue or agricultural waste of maize was used as feedstock for biofuel production. Though the production process got a bit more complicated with few more upstream processes added, it still could be achieved. Biofuel produced from 2nd generation feedstock was also successfully used, with great public interest generated. Smart concept, but yet again there are complications as usual. Our end goal is to produce an alternative source of renewable energy which can outcompete the fossil fuel industry and take its place. This is just a bi-product industry of the food industry. So it still using the water, land and resources the food industry uses. It simply cannot compete with the fossil fuel industry. So whilst it is currently being used to create awareness and generate public interest and appreciation, a more sustainable solution is needed.

Source: Pintrest

Source: Pintrest

3rd Generation Bio-Fuel
Now with great pleasure I introduce to you the hero of the article, micro-algae. Algae can be used as the 3rd generation feed-stock to produce bio-fuel. Firstly, it can simply be grown in waste water and therefore it does not compete with land nor fresh water. Its efficiency and productivity of producing bio-fuel is much higher than using 1st or 2nd generation feed-stock. Currently, the chemistry of producing the bio-fuel from micro-algae is known, but it has the potential to do more. Researchers are investigating its potential to make bio-plastics and other material at an industrial and economical scale. 

Now we are looking at a larger picture. We cannot simply predict what the picture looks like just playing with a few pixels. Knowing something is one thing and putting it in to practice is easier said than done. This is an inter disciplinary science involving biology, engineering, economy and the environment. We should be able to produce micro-algae than lives in waste water, without competing with land and other natural resources whilst producing bio-fuel productively, efficiently and economically while trying to compete with the fossil fuel industry. A very big ask indeed.  While researchers are working very hard to find solutions and drafting models where micro-algae can be used to create a separate industry, it is our responsibility to encourage them, give them positive feedback and constructive criticism when necessary. If this successful, there probably would be a transition from a fossil fuel based economy to a bio-based economy. Brace your selves, a possible bio-revolution?

By Abdur Rahmaan Azeez

Source of Featured image :

West Malaysian spirit of magniloquence, periphrasis and procrastination. I have half a mind...

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