Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bioethanol - fuel of the future?

Most of the alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, nuclear energy have a major drawback of not being useful as automobile fuels. Automobiles are one of the major consumers of the crude fuels today. This makes it necessary to have alternative energy source that can be used with the automobile engines being used today with little or no modifications. Bioethanol is one such alternative which has shown significant potential.

Ethanol is produced by fungi such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and bacteria such as Zymomonas mobilis. The raw material for this production of ethanol is sugar plants, cereals or ligno cellulose. The use of food crops for ethanol production has the disadvantage of having a negative impact on food production. Hence, the use of ligno cellulose is a very attractive alternative.

Ethanol production is dependent on having effective production and storage of raw materials, pretreatment, fermentation, the production step itself and transport and use of the final product. Each of these steps has many problems which have to be overcome. Cost benefits and impact on other agricultural products are the main concerns with respect to bio ethanol.

Production of raw materials for ethanol production have to consider the impact on the environment due to increased usage of fertilizers and pesticides. There has also been significant concern regarding the reduction in the rain forest to meet the energy needs. However, sugar cane is not grown on rain forest land and is not actually having any impact on the rain forests.

Storage of raw materials has to provide the optimal conditions to maintain the correct water content for later use in fermentation. The raw material should also be protected from contamination and degradation during storage. Improvements in the fermentation and refinement of ethanol are also required to get better yields. Ethanol production has the advantage of being produced locally in most of the regions. However, concerns include over-utilization of land and destruction of rain forests. Integration of the different steps in the production of ethanol will increase efficiency.

Bioethanol is more sustainable than fossil fuels, but it may not be able to solely fulfill the growing need for energy.

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