What is biofuel? Can it power cars?

A metaphor for biofuel - plugs inserted into a block of cheese, and a carrot

Biofuel, according to Wikipedia, is “a fuel that is produced through contemporary biological processes, such as agriculture and anaerobic digestion, rather than a fuel produced by geological processes such as those involved in the formation of fossil fuels, such as coal and petroleum, from prehistoric biological matter.”

So in other words, it’s plant-based, renewable fuel. Or, if you prefer – it’s a type of clean energy.

Can biofuel be used to power cars? It can, and it is!

In fact, some cars in Brazil can run entirely on ethanol, as opposed to a mix of fossil fuels and ethanol (read: biofuel) – which is how it’s usually done.

But wait, there’s more!

Earlier this month, Virgin Atlantic used biofuel in a flight from Georgia to London. Before that, in late August, Indian airline SpiceJet operated India’s first biofuel-powered flight.

These flights weren’t wholly powered by biofuel. In fact, in the Virgin Atlantic flight biofuel constituted a mere 5%. The SpiceJet flight had 25% biofuel. However, it’s a big step in the right direction. And more than anything else, I’m excited by the breakthrough, and the future potential.

Don’t get too excited just yet. Biofuel may not be the Solution to End All Problems. We all wish for a miracle, but it looks like biofuel (as we know it today) isn’t it. That’s because biofuel presents its own set of problems. Unclean energy – lots of it – is used in its production, and large-scale cultivation of a few select plants would create problems such as soil erosion and loss of biodiversity – just to name a few.

But…there’s always a but. Scientists are working on that. They’re trying to use grasses and saplings to create biofuel – which would be much more efficient. And of course, as we as a society grow aware of the problem and take steps to avoid it, other solutions will appear. Until that happens, let’s try to cut down on our use of unclean energy, and keep hoping, educating.


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