Pros & Cons Of Bioenergy & Biofuel (Advantages & Disadvantages)

In the guide below, we outline the potential pros and cons of bioenergy and biofuels derived from biomass.

We also briefly discuss some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of newer generation algae biomass for biofuels.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Bioenergy & Biofuels 

Firstly, What Is Bioenergy, & What Are Biofuels?

In this guide, we provide more information about what bioenergy and biofuels are.

 

Potential Pros

Some Countries Are Increasing Their Use Of Bioenergy Or Biofuel

Can Be Renewable 

Biomass Can Be Abundant

Biomass Absorbs Carbon

Energy From Biomass Can Be Cost Effective In Some Ways

Local Sourcing Of Bioenergy & Biofuels May Increase Energy Independence For Some Countries

Local Sourcing Of Bioenergy & Biofuels May Have Local Economic & Social Benefits

Producing Biomass For Bioenergy And Biofuels Has A Range Of Potential Uses

Biomass Production For Different End Uses Has A Range Of Miscellaneous Benefits

Waste Can Be Used As A Biomass Source

Biofuels May Lower Carbon Intensity Of Some Transportation

Bioenergy May Have Multiple Benefits Over Both Fossil Fuel Energy & Some Other Forms Of Renewable Energy

Growing Biomass May Not Compromise Food Production Or Other Land Uses In Some Countries

Third Generation Biofuels, Like Algae, Might Offer Additional Benefits Compared To First & Second Generations

There May Be New Developments In Bioenergy & Biofuels In The Future

 

Potential Cons

Some Countries Don’t Use Bioenergy Or Biofuels As Major Energy Or Fuel Source Yet 

May Not Be One Of The Better ‘Renewable Energy’ Options Right Now

Growing Some Types Of Biomass Has Both A Potential Sustainability Footprint, & Environmental Impact To Consider

Biofuel Products Still Have An Emissions Footprint

Burning Wood Releases Smoke & Potential Air Pollutants

Some Argue That Growing Crops Specifically For Bioenergy Or Biofuels Is Not The Most Efficient Or Best Use Of Resources

May Compete With Other Uses For Land

Might Be More Time & Cost Intensive Than Some Other Energy Sources

Some Types Of Bioenergy May Not Be Cost Effective Or Economically Feasible In Some Ways

May Involve The Inefficient Conversion Of Energy

Some Criticise The Policies & Programs In Place To Increase Use Of Biofuels

Might Need Further Improvement In Some Areas

 

*Note

The pros and cons in this guide are generalisations.

There are different types, technologies and products of bioenergy and biofuels, and each has their own factors and variables that impact the final individual set of pros and cons.

For example, some biofuel feedstocks may have different sustainability pros and cons to others, and this is something that wikipedia.org discusses, and gives example of with different types of feedstock, the types of land they use, their end emissions reductions or increases, and so on

Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually.

Having said that, some broad principles about potential pros and cons may still generally apply.

 

Potential Pros Of Bioenergy & Biofuels

Some Countries Are Increasing Their Use Of Bioenergy Or Biofuel

Some countries in the world use more bioenergy and biofuels compared to others, and some are committed to increasing the share of bioenergy or biofuels they use.

eia.gov indicates that ‘Production and consumption of biofuels in the United States have generally increased each year since the early 1980s’

Biofuel blends including ethanol for example are reasonably common in some countries like the US.

 

Can Be Renewable

There will always be organic matter and waste to convert to energy

Renewal takes as long as each type of organic matter takes to develop, or as long as waste takes to be generated

This is in comparison to fossil fuels for example that are classified as finite

 

Biomass Can Be Abundant

Biomass can be abundant and widely available in many regions of the world

In lesser developed countries and regions, they have been burning wood, and other biomass for centuries, because other types of energy or electricity aren’t available

 

Biomass Absorbs Carbon

Biomass absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, and when that biomass is burnt or converted into a useable form of energy, it releases that carbon back into the atmosphere.

So, the CO2 that is released is what was absorbed initially.

Having said that, carbon can be released at other stages of the bioenergy or biofuel lifecycle.

 

Energy From Biomass Can Be Cost Effective In Some Ways

Some types of bioenergy harnessed from biomass may be more cost effective in some ways, compared to coal and oil (where drilling for oil or creating gas pipelines is required).

Some reports indicate that some types of bioenergy cost about 1/3 less than fossil fuels doing the same job, and sometimes that cost saving is passed on via cheaper energy prices to consumers

 

Local Sourcing Of Bioenergy & Biofuels May Increase Energy Independence For Some Countries

If countries are currently relying on foreign oil, gas or coal for example, local sourcing of bioenergy or biofuels may decrease foreign energy and fuel dependence, and increase domestic independence.

 

Local Sourcing Of Bioenergy & Biofuels May Have Local Economic & Social Benefits

Like for example contributing to local economies, and providing local incomes, employment, and other economic and social benefits.

energy.gov references one report that indicates: ‘… One billion tons of biomass could … Contribute 1.1 million jobs to the U.S. economy … [and] Keep $260 billion in the United States …’

 

Producing Biomass For Bioenergy And Biofuels Has A Range Of Potential Uses

Biomass can be:

– Processed to create biofuel for vehicles (biofuels can replace a certain amount of petroleum in biofuel blends, and, some biofuel products may even be able to be used in fuel cells)

– Used to create steam to power turbines to create electricity

– Used for bio-based chemicals and bioproducts

energy.gov illustrates this in their report

 

Biomass Production For Different End Uses Has A Range Of Miscellaneous Benefits

Which may include but aren’t limited to:

– Biomass Being Able To Partially Replace Coal, & Also Natural Gas For Power Generation

energy.gov notes that biomass can partially replace some coal in existing power plant furnaces, and also biomass that ‘synthesis gas (or syngas) … be used to replace natural gas in a combined-cycle gas turbine’

 

– Bioproduct Production Benefitting Biofuels

Something else energy.gov points out, is that biomass can be used to make different bioproducts, and not only can biorefineries help produce both bioproducts and biofuels, but, ‘… Revenue generated from bioproducts also offers added value, improving the economics of biorefinery operations and creating more cost-competitive biofuels’ 

 

Waste Can Be Used As A Biomass Source

Waste can come from a range of sources and in a range of forms, such as:

– Wood waste 

– Agricultural waste

– Human Waste

– Animal waste

– Municipal waste

– Industrial waste

– Plus, more

This waste would have been disposed of, but is instead utilized for energy or fuel.

 

Biofuels May Lower Carbon Intensity Of Some Transportation

energy.gov indicates: ‘Renewable transportation fuels that are functionally equivalent to petroleum fuels lower the carbon intensity of our vehicles and airplanes.’

 

Bioenergy May Have Multiple Benefits Over Both Fossil Fuel Energy & Some Other Forms Of Renewable Energy

energy.gov indicates there might be both sustainability and practical electricity generation benefits:

Biopower can offset the need for carbon fuels burned in power plants, thus lowering the carbon intensity of electricity generation.

[And] Unlike some forms of intermittent renewable energy, biopower can increase the flexibility of electricity generation and enhance the reliability of the electric grid. 

 

Growing Biomass May Not Compromise Food Production Or Other Land Uses In Some Countries

Some reports indicate that growing biomass specifically for bioenergy and biofuels may compete with and sacrifice food production land uses in some instances.

However, energy.gov references one report that indicates: ‘… the United States has the potential to produce 1 billion dry tons of non-food biomass resources annually by 2040 and still meet demands for food, feed, and fiber’

 

Third Generation Biofuels, Like Algae, Might Offer Additional Benefits Compared To First & Second Generations

Third generation biofuels are being developed from algae.

Algae based fuels might have new benefits that previous generations of biofuels didn’t, such as being more cost effective, being higher yielding and having higher speed of growth and production rates, not compromising food production, plus other benefits

 

From efficientgreenpower.com:

… algae-derived biomass … is produced at rates five to ten times faster than other types of land-based agriculture, such as corn and soy, and it can be fermented to produce biofuels such as ethanol, butanol, and methane, as well as biodiesel and hydrogen

 

There May Be New Developments In Bioenergy & Biofuels In The Future

Third generation algal and algae based biofuels may have additional room to develop, and there may be potential in new types of biofuel production.

One example might be algae being used for sustainable aviation fuel in the future

 

As of 2015, a new bioenergy sewage treatment process aimed at developing countries is under trial; the Omni Processor is a self-sustaining process which uses sewerage solids as fuel in a process to convert waste water into drinking water, with surplus electrical energy being generated for export (efficientgreenpower.com)

 

bbc.com also mentions that successful pilot projects in the Ivory Coast (where much of the world’s cocoa production happens) have lead to building a ‘… biomass plant which will run on cocoa waste’ that can ‘meet the electricity needs of 1.7 million people’

 

efficientgreenpower.com indicates that ‘The future is moving towards algal, or algae-derived biomass …’

 

Potential Cons Of Bioenergy & Biofuels

Some Countries Don’t Use Bioenergy Or Biofuels As Major Energy Or Fuel Source Yet 

There’s still major countries in the world that get most of their energy from fossil fuels, and some are prioritizing renewable energy like solar or wind over bioenergy.

The US for example doesn’t currently get a large % of it’s primary energy from bioenergy.

On a worldwide scale, it’s a similar picture, as iea.org indicates that ‘Bioenergy accounts for around 10% of the world’s primary energy demand today’

Biofuels can be more common, but, they tend to be biofuel blends that are still used with fossil fuel products.

So, the total use of biomass derived fuels may not be as great as fossil fuel derived fuel.

 

May Not Be One Of The Better ‘Renewable Energy’ Options Right Now

Some reports indicate that compared to renewable solar and water energy sources for example, biomass is inefficient and under-researched.

 

Growing Some Types Of Biomass Has Both A Potential Sustainability Footprint, & Environmental Impact To Consider

The growing of some biomass, such as dedicated crops, might have the following sustainability and environmental impact considerations:

– Requires Resources

Such as land, water, energy, agricultural inputs like fertilizer and pesticides, and so on

Irrigation in water scarce areas might be a problem for growing biomass.

 

– Potential Environmental Impact

Agriculture in general has it’s own environmental footprint to consider

For crops used for biomass, there can be carbon emissions (on farms, and off site with the production of fertiliser), deforestation & land clearing, and land and soil degradation.

Some reports indicate that dedicated biomass can rate near the top of the emissions list just behind some types of fossil fuel energy generation

 

– Other Sustainability Issues

In this guide, we’ve outlined a range of potential sustainability and environmental issues relating to biomass derived energy and products.

It may not be as sustainable of a technology as some think it is.

 

Biofuel Products Still Have An Emissions Footprint

Biofuels such as ethanol may release black carbon, and biofuels still have GHG missions like petroleum based fuels might.

 

Burning Wood Releases Smoke & Potential Air Pollutants

Wood smoke can contain air pollutants

But, if wood is not burned completely, it also emits carbon monoxide and particulate matter, which are common air pollutants.

This might be an issue for developing nations that still use wood as a form of bioenergy for heating and cooking

 

Some Argue That Growing Crops Specifically For Bioenergy Or Biofuels Is Not The Most Efficient Or Best Use Of Resources

Some reports indicate that these resources might better be allocated elsewhere, or, that crops might be used directly as food instead

 

May Compete With Other Uses For Land

Biomass storage in particular can need large areas of land, and this land has alternative uses, such as food production.

 

wikipedia.org indicates that some biofuel feedstocks may not compete for land with other land uses, but other reports argue this point and say they do. It may depend on the feedstock being grown, and the individual biofuel feedstock producer

 

Might Be More Time & Cost Intensive Than Some Other Energy Sources

In the case of biomass grown for bioenergy, there’s time and costs involved in planting, harvesting, and of course the resources used for these processes.

Compare that to solar of wind energy for example, which have basic maintenance, cleaning and sometimes repair costs to consider once set up.

 

Some Types Of Bioenergy May Not Be Cost Effective Or Economically Feasible In Some Ways

Some reports indicate that some first generation biomass energy sources are not commercially viable to produce, or that they are costly compared to other options.

Some second generation biomass sources (waste and other types of biomass) may also have economic feasibility issues.

 

May Involve The Inefficient Conversion Of Energy

Energy has to be converted over several stages from biomass, into bioenergy and biofuel products.

Biomass requires two stages of energy conversion – the first for the resources used to grow the biomass, and the second for the combustion of the biomass grown and harvested.

This process of energy conversion may be inefficient compared to some other energy conversion process.

One example might be converting a fossil fuel like petroleum into gasoline

Another example might be renewable energy like solar and wind – which is directly converted into electricity

 

Some Criticise The Policies & Programs In Place To Increase Use Of Biofuels

eia.gov provide more details about some of the measures currently in place to support the use of biofuels over fossil fuel fuels

Whilst some argue this is good to decrease emissions, some argue that the policies, programs, tax credits, and other government tools may cover up some of the inefficiencies, impracticalities, or economic feasibility issues of some bioenergy or biofuel operations

 

Might Need Further Improvement In Some Areas 

According to some reports, some of the major challenges or limitations to do with bioenergy and biofuels may not have been addressed yet.

One example may be cost in comparison to some fossil fuels.

Until these areas are are addressed, other types of energy and fuel may be more appealing.

 

Pros & Cons Specifically Of Algae Biofuels

We mentioned algae biofuels in the guide above, along with some of the potential benefits.

It’s worth mentioning that algae are an alternative feedstock for biofuels to both fossil fuels, and also edible crop biomass, and non edible biomass.

Algae biofuels are still being researched and developed in some ways to decrease capital and operating costs, and make algae fuel production commercially viable.

 

 

Sources

1. http://energyinformative.org/biomass-energy-pros-and-cons/

2. http://efficientgreenpower.com/biomass-energy

3. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/biomass-energy-advantages-disadvantages/

4. https://www.renewableresourcescoalition.org/alternative-energy-sources/

5. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/?page=biomass_home

6. http://www.alternative-energy-geek.com/problems-with-biomass.shtml

7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellet_fuel

8. http://energyfromwasteandwood.weebly.com/generations-of-biofuels.html

9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aviation_biofuel

10. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20210607-a-chocolatey-sustainable-alternative-to-fossil-fuels

11. https://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/bioenergy-basics

12. https://www.energy.gov/eere/bioenergy/biopower-basics

13. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/biofuels/

14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae_fuel

15. https://www.iea.org/reports/outlook-for-biogas-and-biomethane-prospects-for-organic-growth/an-introduction-to-biogas-and-biomethane

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