What are biofuels?

April Lovelady, Attaway, Denise  |  10/27/2014 11:15:56 PM


Biofuels are fuels made from plants. Plants like sugarcane, sweet sorghum, soybeans, sunflowers and others, also known as feedstocks, can be grown on a farm the same as other crops. These crops can be used as biomass (fiber or plant material) for renewable sources of energy. There are different ways to use plants as fuel sources. For example, the wood from trees can be burned for fuel. Sugarcane and other plants also can be used to make fuel through a process called “fermentation,” that produces biofuels such as ethanol.

Growing Biomass
First, the sugarcane or other plant  material, also called the biomass, is harvested.

Next, the plant materials are  milled. During milling, the  biomass (sugarcane, for example) is crushed and ground.

Producing Juice
Then, juice is created during the crushing and grinding. It’s like squeezing an orange. The  sugarcane is crushed, the juice runs out, and the fiber left behind is called bagasse. The juice contains sugars called carbohydrates.

Finally, bacteria (or microorganisms) are added to the sugarcane juice. These microorganisms are so small that they only can be seen using a microscope. As the microorganisms eat the sugars in the juice, biofuels like ethanol and butanol are produced. This ethanol or butanol can then be used directly or mixed with gasoline to run cars and other vehicles.

After milling, the plant material, or fiber, that remains is called sugarcane bagasse. The bagasse also can be burned as fuel to power the machinery in the sugar mill. There are many types of biofuels, including biodiesel, biogas, butanol, ethanol and syngas.

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