Biofuels Key Terms
Better your green education by learning the basic language of biofuelsConstantly changing economic and environmental factors have lead to an increasing interest in renewable energy options, such as biofuels. By reducing or eliminating the need for politically and environmentally charged fossil fuels, these alternative options to traditional gasoline and diesel fuels can help to conserve both money and the environment. Learning the basic biofuel terminology will help guide you through the alternative fuel universe and aide you in determining if this switch is right for your business.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides information on a variety of renewable resources, including biofuels.
BiomassBiomass is carbon containing, organic material from plants and animals. These materials contain stored energy from the sun that can be used for energy. This energy can be accessed through burning, decomposition, fermentation or distillation. Sources of biomass energy include wood, crops, landfill gas, human or animal waste and organic garbage.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the United States Department of Energy addressed frequently asked questions about biomass and biofuels.
BiodieselBiodiesel is fuel made of fatty acid compounds that results in fewer pollutants than standard petroleum diesel. These fatty acids can be gathered from new or used vegetable oils and animal fats and made into biodiesel by transesterification and subsequent refining.
The Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center offers more information on biodiesel.
TransesterificationTransesterification is the process that separates the triglycerides, found in plant oils and animal fats, into esters and a glycerol. The esters are the molecules that make up biodiesel. This is usually done by exposing the triglyceride to an alcohol (usually methanol) and a catalyst (usually a strong alkaline substance such as sodium hydroxide).
The Energy Systems Research Unit explains the biodiesel production process, including transesterification.
Ethanol/gasoholEthanol is a grain alcohol made from plant matter, such as corn. It is combined with unleaded gasoline to form what is sometimes called gasohol. This ethanol/gasoline combination is cleaner burning and more renewable than straight gasoline. The most common combination, which can be used in all unleaded gasoline burning cars, is E10 (10% ethanol/90% unleaded gasoline). Some new cars, termed flexible fuel vehicles, can use E85 (85% ethanol/15% unleaded gasoline).
The American Coalition for Ethanol offers a large amount of information on ethanol and its benefits as a biofuel.
Cellulosic biofuelCellulosic biofuel is a highly efficient form of ethanol that can produce up to three times more energy with low amounts of polluting byproducts. It can also be made from agricultural and industrial wastes, dipping into human and livestock food supplies less than corn-based ethanol.
Harvesting Clean Energy discusses the current and future benefits of cellulosic biofuel.
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