Biofuel production is the process of making fuel from carbon based organic materials. In most cases, this organic matter comes from plants but, in theory, almost any carbon-based organic material could be used to create alternative biofuels. In some cases, organic wastes such as manure have even been harvested for use in the biofuel production industry. Due to the ready availability of organic matter and the fact that it is a renewable resource, much research has been done in the field of biofuel production.
There are several forms of fuel created using biofuel production methods, including liquids, solids, and gases. These fuel types each have their own specific applications that may include such tasks as powering vehicles, fueling heat, or laboratory uses. Though there are advantages and disadvantages to biofuels, continuing research is making this fuel type a viable option for replacement of less renewable energy resources, such as petroleum and coal.
The production of biofuels is often cited as a cost-effective measure for pollution and oil price control. Due to the lower production costs of these fuels and their less damaging effects on the environment, many governments are offering funding for biofuel research and development to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels. The most common methods of biofuel production are those that utilize plant matter, relying on the natural sugar, starch, or oil content of the plant.
Plants that are naturally high in sugar, such as sugar cane, or high in starch, such as corn, are used to make biofuel through a fermentation process. The fermented organic material produces an alcohol-based fuel that can be used alone or mixed with other elements. A common example of this type of biofuel production is ethanol, which is used by itself to fuel some modern vehicles or mixed with traditional petroleum-based gasoline. In some cases, the organic material left over from the fermentation process is dried and compressed into pellets to form a solid fuel for heating furnaces and other applications.
Biofuel production methods that rely on the oils produced by plants commonly use soybeans or algae. Algae biofuel and other oil based biofuels can be used in an unaltered form if sufficient heat is available. To use these biofuels within a normal operating range, however, the oils are often converted to biodiesel using a transesterification process. The inherent viscosity of the fuel is reduced in this process, making it easier to burn at lower temperatures and more useful as fuel for machinery and vehicles.