Assessment of Physical and Ecological Limits of Biofuels

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Biofuels derive from biomass. Photo by Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

Biofuels derive from biomass. Photo by Mariordo Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

Researchers from Valladolid University showed that the use of biofuels (i.e. bioethanol) may have a higher ecological footprint than fossil fuels. The study also shows probable previous overestimations in yield efficiency in biofuel production and power density.

What are Biofuels?

Biofuels are fuels made from biomass. The most common one is ethanol, made from the fermentation of selected crops. Biofuels differ from “standard” fossil fuels, such as coal or oil, as they can originate from renewable sources.

Controversy on Biofuel Use

In recent years there has been an increase in the production and use of biofuels as they are considered more “green” and experts thought they’d have a smaller impact on the environment.

Several reports, however, show that this is not always the case. Currently there is a lot of controversy about biofuel use because of issues such as the emission of greenhouse gases and the use of cultivable land to grow biofuel crops.

For this reason, scientists want to try to establish the real advantages and disadvantages associated with the use of biofuels through numerous studies.

Assessment of Biofuel Limits

Researchers from the University of Valladolid (Spain) carried out a study on the limits of biofuels, both from physical and ecological points of view. The work was a collaboration between several institutes of this university (Departments of Applied Physics, Applied Economics, Electric Engineering and System Engineering and Automation Control).  Energy published the results on the 9th of November 2013.

Top-down Approach

Professor Carlos de Castro Carranza, leading scientist in the research, explains to Decoded Science the way they performed the study.

“In our work we used the top-down methodology; this means that we did not consider single case studies, but either global or regional data. This method has been already used before to assess the limits of fossil fuel and of wind energy; it was, however, never applied to energy from other renewable sources, such as biomasses/biofuels.”

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