Essay Example for Students: How to Generate Electricity from Biofuels

Published: 2022-05-02
Essay Example for Students: How to Generate Electricity from Biofuels
Type of paper:  Report
Categories:  Energy
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1779 words
15 min read


The increasing global burden on energy is putting more pressure on the existing fossil fuel reserves. This means that in the future the world is likely to face a critical energy crisis, which will affect most transport and administrative systems. It is time to begin thinking about alternative sources of energy which will have minimal effect on the environment and offer a similar energy output to the fossil fuels. Straight vegetable oils have a potential for energy, which can be used to run engines in the manufacturing and transport sector. This resource is being used in first world countries, but its full benefits have not been realized as there are some gaps in the research. This paper analyzes the application of biofuels and how their energy potential makes them an alternative to petroleum fuels. The problem statement discusses the research gaps that have made exploitation of biofuels largely unsuccessful. In this regard, different solutions are proposed and the conclusion gives an overview of how biofuels can be better used for global energy sustainability.

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How to Generate Electricity from Biofuels

Figure 2 SVO as a fuel

Figure 1 Biofuel in useF

In many developing countries, biofuel is being used as an alternative source of energy. As the energy crisis looms, these countries have to ensure that they can maintain their energy supply at an affordable cost, to offset any challenges that face them in the future. Biofuels offer huge potential for power, especially in areas with largely arable lands and a majority of the population practicing agriculture (Geoff, 2018). In the recent past, use of straight vegetable oil for use in diesel engines has been actively researched by many energy authorities. The fuel generated from this product can be applied in the field of agricultural mechanics, power generation and in manufacturing industries (Blin et al., 2013, p.584). These sectors consume the very high amount of energy, especially diesel, and SVO offers a much more sustainable and affordable option. Increasing use of biofuels will contribute to a reduction in the costs applied in the importation of fossil fuels, limiting overdependence on the fossil fuels and limiting the greenhouse gases emissions (Blin et al., 2013). In many sub-Saharan African countries, many funds are spent on importing fossils fuels, which creates problems for development in other areas of the economy.

Governments that have adopted the biofuels are encouraging their farmers to plant more oil-producing crops, which will make local production easier. The farmer is educated on the essential of oil extraction and conversion into power, at a much lesser cost and more flexible production capacity. However, even with the minimized production costs, biofuels still have to undergo a series of tests to make them safe for use in conventional engines that were purposely designed for fossil fuels. The use of these fuels is governed by the same standards used on petroleum fuels. SVO's which are not being produced to scale at the moment, have yet to meet these standards as their functionality has not been certified.

The aim of this paper is to desire the series of steps involved in extraction and conversion of vegetable oils into fuels. Based on the extraction process, the paper analyzes the benefits and problems surrounding the use of vegetable oil fuels and the long-term implication on fossil fuel usage in the developing countries. From the analysis, we propose the quality and usage standards that would make vegetable oils safer and more accessible for use.


Figure 3 Injection System

Vegetable oils are produced by the mechanical press or solvent extraction of oil from oil-bearing plants. Some of these plants occur naturally in the forest, some ate cultivated in the garden while some can be produced large scale in plantation through intensive agricultural measures. In the tropical countries, oil plants include oil palm coconut, soya, sunflower, and castor. The chemical composition of straight vegetable oils is composed of 95% triglycerides and 5% fatty acids and other impurities (Calabria et al, 2011). The physical and chemical properties of the extracted biofuel from these plants are very different compared to most mineral fuels. Biofuels have low net calorie value, high viscosity and density and lower air to fuel ratio because they have higher oxygen content. For electric use, the biofuel has to go through a system of injection, supply and storage pumps, to make them viable to run engines. Jatropha is an oil plant that has been extensively researched on for its power potential and high adaptability in adverse climatic zones and different soil types. The plant has high drought tolerance and can be cultivated in areas where there is little viability for food crops, thus reducing competition. However, jatropha has not been used effectively as a fuel source because its yields are unreliable and lower than expected from feasibility studies. The cultivation of the plant on wasteland does not produce yields of commercial relevance. I addition oil production from the jatropha is very expensive and as such many farmers abandoned its cultivation (Calabria et al, 2011). To mitigate this problem, jatropha has been grown in cultures, but the energy yield is still significantly low. In African countries still cultivating jatropha, the extraction of oil remains a huge challenge, as the mechanical presses are not readily available in the market. The biggest challenge from the jatropha oil is the logistics for local electricity supply systems. Collecting, transport, processing and fuel storage, proves to be very difficult as many farmers are much dispersed geographically and do not produce sufficient amount of seeds to balance the economies of scale for successful exploitation.

Problem Statement

Biofuels offer a better environmental friendly source of fuel, but is the energy really sustainable enough?

SVO's are a renewable energy source, which is easily handled, not easily flammable and do not release any toxic gases. They cannot cause any major damage if they are spilled accidentally. However, they are not really sustainable because of their low energy content and quick degradation rate. The result of this is that they cannot be used for major industrial purposes of large-scale production of electricity. There are no international standards for testing the specific oil-derived fuels; therefore it is not possible to know if the SVO's are more beneficial than fossil fuels. Further, most people have been using petroleum fuels for a long time, meaning that they will have a hard time switching to the use of fuels that have not been tested or will not fulfill their energy needs.


Figure 4 Palm Oil

The different types of oil producing plants examined showed that vegetable oils have greater potential for energy than petroleum fuels. Palm oil has 15% lesser energy density than diesel, and with the similar power potential but is consumed very fast (Calabria et al, 2011). Nevertheless, the cetane number of palm oil is significantly lower than that of diesel which makes it difficult to start in the beginning. This results in a consequent decrease in the quality of combustion and more noise produced by the engine. In addition, the palm oil has a higher flash point compared to diesel, which makes it easy to transport and manipulation for different operations. The major disadvantage of palm oil is the high value of iodine which increases the risk of fuel deterioration (Calabria et al, 2011). The high viscosity can cause major problems in the operation of an engine, by affecting the supply system which makes it prone to damage in a short time. All of these conditions combined cause difficulties in the combustion of the fuel, and formation of residual substances which can pollute engines lubricating oil (Hellier, Ladommatos & Yusaf, 2015). Palm oil is highly unstable at high temperatures as it is highly susceptible to polymerization, and can cause the lubrication to fail. Another risk for using palm oil is vulnerable to up to a 5% power loss, with high fuel consumption by an engine (Calabria et al, 2011). For this reason, vegetable oils are indicated for use in small power engines, with low rotational speeds and less run time.


Diesel engines are very flexible and therefore can use the vegetable oils to run. To examine the benefits and applicability of the biofuels for use, we conducted a literature review on the studies on the use of different oils for production of fuel in different countries. The focus was on the African countries which have already begun utilizing these fuels in some of their energy production. These countries in focus have integrated the use of oil fuels into the diesel engines to run different activities in the agricultural sector.

The Combined Heat and Intelligent Power system is a technology that was designed to turn waste cooking oil at home into electricity. This device is not bulky and gives an individual the benefits of having lower energy bills and offering a good recycling option for the waste cooking oil ("Used Cooking Oil - Combined Heat and Power System", 2018). Waste cooking oil is transferred into an integral storage tank, from where the CHiP takes over. The technology used to create the CHiP conditions the waste oil and converts it into electricity that is fed directly into the house power connection. This device is conveniently designed such that it is compact and produces little noise. The system created by Tidy Planet is constantly monitored for performance and controlled from the headquarters ("Used Cooking Oil - Combined Heat and Power System", 2018). The energy output of the equipment is 200kw/hr. from an injection of between 150-10,000 liters weekly.

The low energy potential of the SVO's can be addressed through further scientific research to test the potential of all oil crops and how their energy output can be increased. With the existing technologies and Genetically Modified Crops being cultivated all over the world, it is possible to culture oil crops with the much better output. Since the energy needs of the developing countries are high, the developed countries should contribute resources for the necessary logistical needed to make biofuels a reality. As the developed countries control the global prices of oil, people in third world countries fall victim to international politics and economic principles that make fossil oils inaccessible. In order to maintain the monopoly of the fossil fuels, these first world countries will limit their funding for research on biofuels. They risk losing co troll over production and marketing.

There are several studies that have been done on the biofuels of palm oil and jatropha, and they have had almost similar results. Whilst showing the environmental benefits, they fail to address the financial implications or the potential for competition with petroleum fuels. The vegetable oils have a stable triglyceride composition, unlike petroleum fuels whose chemical composition varies depending on the nature of the crude oil and the...

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