What Is Biofuel and Is it Renewable?
It’s no secret that the planet is in serious peril. Climate change is real and steps to reduce our environmental impact are necessary if we wish to continue life on Earth as we know it.
Biofuel, including biodiesel, ethanol and hydrocarbon, is an important element in the fight against climate change. One of the most advantageous and viable sources of biofuel happens to be hemp.
It’s suggested that the plant could be one of the most sustainable components in reducing carbon emissions, ending our dependence on fossil fuels and preserving rapidly diminishing natural resources.
What exactly is biofuel, though? Is it a source of renewable energy that could have a positive impact on the planet?
What Is Biofuel and Is Biofuel Renewable Energy?
Biofuel is fuel derived from organic matter, obtained directly from plants or agricultural waste. In the most basic sense, biofuel is plant matter that’s converted into fuel, something widely considered as an excellent source of renewable energy and a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Fossil fuels have been used for more than 100 years to keep the lights on in our homes, provide heat, power our cars and keep life running along smoothly as we know it. Crude oil, coal and natural gas are all considered fossil fuels and the burning of each to meet our energy needs has wreaked havoc on the environment.
When fossil fuels are burned, they produce huge quantities of carbon dioxide. These carbon emissions entrap heat in the atmosphere, something directly responsible for climate change.
Many believe that biofuel is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels that are largely responsible for the catastrophic instances of climate change we see today. Biofuel as a renewable energy source has gained increased attention as a way to reduce climate change and reduce our environmental impact.
Different Types of Biofuel
Invented by Rudolf Diesel in the 1890s, the diesel engine was designed to run on an array of different fuels, including vegetable oil. In 1900, a new diesel engine debuted at the Paris Exhibition that ran on peanut oil but didn’t get much attention as petroleum fuel was cheap and readily available. It wasn’t until 1985, however, that the first biodiesel plant was designed to actually produce fuel.
Interest in biodiesel began to grow as more individuals became concerned about sustainability and renewable energy resources. Today in the U.S. alone, there are more than 125 biodiesel plants with the resources to produce three billion gallons.
Biodiesel can be produced by several resources, including vegetable and animal fats, as well as things like recycled cooking oil. Biodiesel is created by separating glycerin from the vegetable or animal fat, a process known as transesterification. Once separated, what’s remaining is glycerin and methyl esters, which is the chemical name of biodiesel. This is then further refined to be used in automobiles.
Being readily available and containing several environmental benefits, biodiesel is one of the most popular alternatives to fossil fuels that exists. Biodiesel not only reduces greenhouse gas and hydrocarbon emissions, it also takes less energy to produce than fossil fuels as it doesn’t require the extraction of fossil fuels or the need for fracking. It also helps reduce smog and makes overall air quality healthier.
Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is an alcohol biofuel and is the same type of alcohol used in alcoholic beverages. Ethanol biofuel is made from the sugars of various grains such as corn, wheat, barley and hemp. It’s also commonly produced from sugarcane.
Ethanol is used extensively throughout the U.S., Brazil and Europe. In Brazil, the government has mandated that ethanol be blended with gasoline since 1976. In the U.S., most cars can run on blends of 10% ethanol, most of which is produced from corn.
Hemp can also be made into ethanol through various means of fermentation and presents a viable and eco-friendly alternative to crops such as corn that require more energy to grow.
Hydrocarbon biofuels are made from biomass sources, created with different chemical, biological and thermal processes. Hydrocarbons are an excellent alternative to fossil fuels as they share a strikingly similar chemical composition to petroleum gasoline, biodiesel and jet fuel.
Something almost more promising is that hydrocarbons are compatible with today’s engines without the requirement of any conversions. Hydrocarbons can also be used in current petroleum gas pipelines and systems responsible for the distribution of retail gas.
Hemp biofuel is biodiesel made from hemp and is believed to be a viable alternative for producing biodiesel. What exactly makes hemp so promising when other crops have shown to be sufficient for producing alternative sources of fuel?
Unlike other biomass plants, hemp can grow virtually anywhere. Not only that but it can also clean up polluted soil through a process known as phytoremediation. Hemp is actually so adept at removing toxins and hazardous material from soil that countless hemp plants were cultivated at the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in an effort to remove radioactive material.
Another benefit of hemp biofuel is that it doesn’t require the need to be cultivated on primary cropland that can be used for growing food. While it can often come down to a question of food versus fuel when it comes to sustainable fuels, hemp doesn’t need to be grown in areas where land is ripe for food cultivation.
While edible plants such as corn, wheat, olives, soybeans and peanuts are often preferred for preparing biofuel, using hemp to make biofuel makes more room for food crops. There’s also the extra hemp that can go towards making other highly useful products.
To be clear, biofuel hemp is not the same as CBD hemp. While it’s possible to make ethanol from CBD hemp, hemp biodiesel is usually extracted from industrial hemp seeds that come from plants not used to make CBD products.
Climate Change and the Need for Renewable Energy
Climate change has taken a significant toll on the environment. Sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting, storms are getting worse and record high temperatures increase each and every year. Environmental experts are certain that global temperatures will keep rising for decades, something they agree is closely connected to greenhouse gas emissions.
There has never been a greater need for sources of renewable energy. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and increase over time.”
What does the future hold as far as climate change is concerned? For one, global climate change is expected to continue through the 21st century and beyond. It’s suggested that the extent of climate change over the next few decades is largely dependent on the amount of global greenhouse gases produced.
Temperatures are expected to continue to rise and precipitation levels are expected to increase. More droughts are also expected, and hurricanes are projected to continue to get stronger and more intense as we move forward into the future. The Arctic may be without ice before mid-century and the sea level is expected to rise 1-4 feet by 2100.
Climate change is no longer a projection. It’s here and taking the world by force. Switching from fossil fuels is vital to keep the planet from continuing to warm. Zero carbon emission goals are possible, yet change must happen on a global scale.
In 2015, the United Nations (UN) implemented Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), defining progress the global community desires to reach by 2030. There are two vital goals:
- Ensure everyone has access to clean and affordable energy
- Take action to reduce climate change
The two goals work together with an overall objective to make energy accessible and sustainable for everyone in every country by 2030.
2030 is just a decade away and radical energy transformation is needed. We must make the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like biofuel if we’re going to meet these goals. Because biofuel is renewable, it’s seen as something that could significantly reduce climate change and the perilous future predicted.
Hemp Could Revolutionize the American Lifestyle
The passing of the 2018 Farm Bill could be something that helps change the fate of the planet. The Farm Bill opened the gates for farmers to cultivate hemp below a 0.3% THC level in America. There are so many uses for hemp that it could just become the premier crop of the 21st century.
As far as climate change is concerned, hemp is a no-brainer. It can be made into biofuel and ethanol fuel, which can significantly reduce carbon emissions, and growing hemp is easy. Not only does it require little maintenance but it also thrives in a variety of climates.
Biofuel is just one way that hemp could revolutionize the American lifestyle and contribute to a greener future. Industrial hemp can be used for eco-friendly building material, as a green alternative to cotton fiber, made into hemp “plastic” and much, much more.
Cars can be made from hemp, a material lighter than steel that can withstand 10 times the impact without denting. Hemp paper could replace paper made from trees. One acre of hemp can produce the same amount of paper as four acres of trees, grows virtually anywhere and grows back rapidly year after year.
The ability of Americans to cultivate hemp also turns the once illegal plant into a viable cash crop. Growing hemp is something that could ultimately stimulate the economy, especially in the midst of trade concerns amongst other crops like soybeans, wheat and corn.
Is biofuel the wave of a greener future? We’d like to think so. With hemp cultivation soon to be legal across the country, biofuel sourced from hemp could easily become part of the change we need to see.
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Hannah Smith is Joy Organics Director of Communications. She is driven by her passion for providing clear and accessible wellness and CBD education. In 2015, she received her BA in Media, Culture and the Arts from The King’s College in New York City and before Joy Organics, worked as writer and photographer in the Middle East and North Africa. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Vice, Vox, Denver Post, and the Coloradoan.