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“Green at Full Tank: Biofuels Spark Revolution in Sustainable Energy”

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Source: Rivera, 2023

In the search for sustainable energy sources, there's a new contender that hold the potential to support both environmental and economic objectives while filling the gap in our demands for liquid fuels—biofuels.

A liquid lifeline that leads to a renewable promise, biofuels offer a lifeline when other energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, fall short. For example, in our transportation needs where liquid fuels like diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel are necessary, biofuels provide a renewable substitute. One day, just about every vehicle on the road will run on renewable energy and these are biofuels, which are liquid fuels made from two biologically renewable sources: plants and algae. Experts are hard at work progressing to achieve this future.

Feedstocks fulfill the role of "green engineers." The foundation of this green revolution is a range of feedstocks, or raw materials for biodiesel, which have the potential of transforming industries and how we fuel our automobiles.

The traditional players. Soybean, canola, and sunflower oils have always been the major players in the biodiesel industry. These materials from the agricultural industry have long served as the cornerstone of the biodiesel industry. Because of their accessibility and versatility, they are trustworthy solutions that ensure a consistent supply to fulfill the growing demand for renewable fuels.

Waste not, want not. What if waste could be transformed into liquid gold? True enough, more and more waste vegetable oil, animal fats, and residual cooking oil are being used as feedstocks for biodiesel. Recycling leftover garbage not only reduces pollution in the environment but also promotes the circular economy. The fact that waste can be transformed into biodiesel is proof of the inventiveness of our biofuel scientists.

The non-food are sowing their seeds. One of the challenges in manufacturing biodiesel is meeting the world's need for fuel while also meeting food needs. Introducing non-food feedstocks, which are particular energy crops that won't jeopardize our ability to consume. New non-food crops that show promise for coexisting with food production include jatropha, camelina, and pongamia.

Imagine the marvels of microbiology waiting around all day and night to become not just fuels, but biofuels. These algae, either macro- or micro-, make excellent biodiesel feedstocks due to their high lipid content and rapid growth rates. The promise of algae-based biodiesel is the large-scale, sustainable production of algae.

The Philippines’ biodiesel bounty is definitely not the least ‘cause it’s gonna last! In the Philippines, the biodiesel story is inextricably related to indigenous resources. When mixed with fossil fuel, the country's abundant supply of coconut oil is a significant component in the production of biodiesel, also known as coco-biodiesel. As the government considers expanding the biodiesel blend from B2 to B5, the economic and environmental effect of using coconut oil as a significant biodiesel feedstock is being highlighted.

Enumerating the general procedures involved in producing biofuels, the following reveals the chemistry of biodiesel manufacturing.

Gathering the Green Gold: Feedstock Selection

The choice of feedstock, or the raw material that will be converted into an environmentally beneficial clean and green elixir, is what matters here. Animal fats, used cooking oil, and vegetable oils (soybean, canola, palm, and sunflower) are common feedstocks. A critical step is choosing, which takes availability, cost, and environmental impact into account.

The Biodiesel Transformation: Converting Oils through Transesterification

After the feedstock is collected, the procedure is carried out in the transesterification reactor. The fats must react with an alcohol, usually methanol or ethanol, in the presence of a catalyst (often potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide) in order to carry out this chemical reaction. Both glycerol and biodiesel are produced by this process.

Clean and Green Elixir: Removal of Impurities

Biodiesel is made by the transesterification process, however it is not yet engine-ready. It is refined to remove impurities, catalyst residue, and glycerol. Methods such as centrifugation or water washing ensure that the biodiesel satisfies biofuel requirements and is ready to power a sustainable future.

Glycerol: A Useful Byproduct

Every byproduct produced during the making of biodiesel has a purpose. A useful byproduct of transesterification is glycerol, which is separated during the process. Despite the fact that the primary product of this method is biodiesel, glycerol finds several applications in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and even animal feed industries.

Quality Control: Ensuring the Gold Standard

The quality of the finished product is vital, just like in any chemical process. Biodiesel is put through a rigorous testing process to ensure that it meets specifications and is a dependable, efficient, and ecologically friendly alternative. In order to ensure optimal biodiesel performance, variables such as oxidative stability, kinematic viscosity, and flash point are monitored.

Blending In: Biodiesel and the Conventional Fuel Mix

A hybrid fuel that blends the greatest qualities of both worlds can be created by varying the percentages of conventional diesel and biodiesel. Frequently used blends include B20 and B5 (95% diesel, 5% biodiesel). Enabling a gradual transition while minimizing the impact on present engines, this smooth blending offers the advantages of a more sustainable fuel supply. That being said, the Philippines is still at the 2% blend mandate.

Moving on, biofuels in the Philippine roadmap is a story of commitment and challenges. Although the manufacture of biodiesel offers a potential route towards a sustainable future, it is not without difficulties. Obstacles that academics and policymakers had to overcome include competition with food production, worries about land usage, and the requirement for effective cultivation techniques. The biodiesel journey remains centered on the thin line balance between environmental sustainability and economic feasibility. However, the future of this green revolution is being shaped by developments in the manufacture of second and third generation biodiesel from waste materials and non-food feedstocks.

The Biofuels Act of 2006 (R.A. 9367), which requires the blending of biofuels in all liquid fuels for motors and engines sold in the country, was enacted in the Philippines, one of the countries in Southeast Asia committed to biofuels research, with the goals of reducing poverty, promoting energy independence, and mitigating climate change. Also leading the charge, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) established a Biofuels Team committed to expanding the frontiers of research and development. Since its establishment, the Biofuels Team has taken the lead in interdisciplinary research and development projects concerning the synthesis of biofuels from non-traditional feedstocks, such as waste cooking oil, oil palm, napier grass, sweet sorghum, soybeans, malunggay (Moringa oleifera, L.), cassava, vutalao (Calophyllum uminophyllum), macro- and microalgae, Jatropha curcas, and coconut, etc. The team has also conducted in-person interviews with farmers across the nation to learn about their needs, concerns, and goals.

Nonetheless, there are other obstacles in the way of a future powered by biofuels. Despite its aim, the Biofuels Act of 2006 presents challenges in the form of regulations and blending dilemmas. Even as fuel prices climb, discussions are taking place over the proposal to raise the biodiesel blend from B2 to B5. The Department of Energy (DOE), as badly expected, plans to carry out the long-delayed 2020 rise in coco methyl ester (CME) content of biodiesel until 2024 due to logistical issues brought on by the pandemic and lack of guarantees regarding the sufficiency of biodiesel supply.

On the other note, what if adding more biodiesel to the mix not only cuts pollution but also boosts the region's coconut business? Raising the mix, according to the United Coconut Associations of the Philippines (UCAP), may result in a decrease in diesel imports and an increase in the demand for domestic coconut oil. At this critical juncture, when economic and environmental factors must be balanced carefully, biofuels must demonstrate their value outside of the lab.

The Philippines must adopt a comprehensive strategy as it negotiates the biofuel industry. Imagine a future in which all, and not just select farmers, are involved in the biofuels sector on a full-time basis, together with researchers. A sustainable biofuel ecosystem may be created by collaborating and fortifying ties with important stakeholders. The Biofuels Team's farmer outreach programs are a prime example of the possibilities for a coordinated, nationwide effort.

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Very informative!

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