Plant- and animal-based energy sources are not only fueling large-scale industrial operations. They are
also starting to fuel cars, trucks, trains, and barges. While these biofuels are still up and coming, they
are poised to change the world energy market. Here are our top six biofuels to watch.
1. Corn Ethanol
If you let corn ferment, it produces an alcohol called ethanol. Because of corn ethanol’s chemical
similarity to gasoline, it has been an easy way to replace the petroleum-based fuel. Processing ethanol is
inexpensive, and it’s an alternative way to use corn, which we have a significant surplus of in the US.
The single hiccup with this biofuel is how much oil is required to get it to market. To plant, grow,
harvest, process, and ship corn ethanol, manufacturers create a large ecological footprint. That being said,
corn ethanol is a great short-term substitute for petroleum fuel.
2. Sugar Cane
In warmer parts of the world like South America, the go-to biofuel is based on sugar cane. Like corn
ethanol, the alcohol from sugar cane is a byproduct of the plant’s fermentation process. The alcohol is then
converted into a fuel, often blended with gasoline.
Currently, sugar cane is the second most prevalent biofuel after corn. Sugar cane ethanol has helped South
American countries to reclaim a larger part of their energy market. The only side effect this inexpensive and
effective biofuel has is its negative tendency to form a gum inside older car engines.
The US Forest Products Laboratory has been developing a technology that converts cellulose materials into
sugar, and then converts that sugar into biofuel. If scientists at the Wisconsin lab succeed, they will have
created one of the cheapest, cleanest-burning fuels in the world.
You can find cellulose in nearly all plant matter, which makes it a very inexpensive commodity. For
example, after a farmer harvests his or her corn crops, he or she has a huge amount of husks left over.
These husks contain cellulose that, if converted into a biofuel, would represent residual income for the
farmer. Therefore, in addition to the environmental potential this product brings, it also could have a major
4. Algal Oil
Half of the weight in algae is made up of fat. Scientists have been rendering that fat into oil and
testing it as a clean jet fuel.
Algae has tremendous potential as a biodiesel fuel. It doesn’t compete with other biofuels because it
doesn’t grow on land. It grows quickly and in abundance, producing 300 times more oil than land-based biomass
sources. When burned in an engine, the byproduct also doesn’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Camelina is a member of the mustard family. This three-foot plant grows quickly, producing pods full of
oily seeds. The oil content of Camelina ranges from 35% to 38%. Once the seeds are crushed, the oil can be
extracted and processed into a highly efficient biofuel. The crushed seeds then get converted into feed for
6. Animal Fat
In large animal farms, leftover fat from butchered meat gets collected as waste and often goes into a
landfill. Instead of tossing the fat, farmers may have the chance to sell it as biomass. Energy scientists
can render animal fat into oil, which can be converted into biodiesel. Commercial forms of animal-based
biodiesel are being tested.
As the biomass industry progresses, it will take over a larger section of the world energy market. Some of
these biofuels represent short-term solutions to the energy crisis. Some of them have the potential to be
major, long-term replacements for petroleum-based fuel.
If you and your company are ready to use biomass energy sources, contact our Wisconsin biomass processing
company for more information.