A growing number of people believe that alternative fuels made from crops and waste products are the future, providing us with a renewable energy source and a sustainable alternative to our reliance on fossil fuels.
Critics argue that whilst there are clear benefits to the production of fuel from waste, the process of growing crops to produce fuel could create problems of its own. There are concerns surrounding the quantity of land that would be required to produce sufficient crops for fuel; potentially creating a shortage of land for food crops, which could threaten our global food systems.
Using waste as a feedstock to create biofuels however, has several advantages, enabling us to reduce the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill and reduce our greenhouse emissions.
First Generation Biofuels
Biofuels can be made from a variety of different sources and are divided into four generations based on the way they are originally sourced. First generation biofuels are sourced from sugars, starches, oil and animal fats that are then converted into a useable fuel source. These fuels include biodiesel, ethanol and methanol.
Creating Biofuels From Food Waste
It is estimated that somewhere in the region of a third of all food produced around the world is discarded and much of this waste ends up in landfill where it decomposes and produces methane. This untapped resource offers a huge potential for the generation of renewable energy sources, (biofuels), which could be used to heat our homes and power our vehicles, whilst reducing our carbon footprint.
One of the most efficient ways to convert our waste into a first generation biofuels is the use of anaerobic digesters. These systems are able to take organic waste products from a variety of different businesses including farms, breweries and slaughterhouses and use microorganisms to convert this waste into fuel.
With a sufficient number of systems in place to support the diversion of suitable waste streams, the potential is huge, providing a huge number of businesses with an obvious green alternative to manage their waste.
We are seeing huge steps forward recently, with Governments and large organisations putting their money where their mouth is and demonstrating that they are serious about change in terms of the way we approach waste.
A great example of this is United Airlines who have invested millions in aviation biofuels, made from farm waste and waste oils. The company are now mixing this low carbon jet fuel with traditional jet fuel at a ratio of 30/70, significantly reducing their carbon emissions. Eventually, they plan to make a complete switch.
In an industry that is renowned for its large carbon footprint and high emissions, this is an incredibly positive step and hopefully it will encourage others to follow suit, particularly as the company have been keen to broadcast the fact that biofuels are price competitive with the petroleum-based alternatives.
Biofuels Are Not A New Technology
The excitement surrounding the potential of biofuels is increasing but this technology is not new. Way back in 1897, Rudolph Diesel proved that he could run his engine on peanut oil and then in 1925, Henry Ford designed a car to run on ethanol. His vision was that biofuels were the fuel of the future; he believed that soon we would all be producing our own fuel from anything from sawdust to potatoes.
Ninety years later, we are finally exploring the possibilities with greater enthusiasm, driven by an unsustainable demand for oil and ever-increasing concerns for the environment. Perhaps the bio-based future that visionaries like Ford predicted will finally become a reality now that we have the technology to make biofuels more adaptable and cost effective. Time will tell.
For more blogs about waste food being converted into something useful then head back into our blog section and look for the last two blogs both of which are on this fascinating subject.