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The present of biofuels in Indiana and worldwide

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Let’s drink to that! For those of us concerned with the issues of saving the planet from those of us unconcerned about it, here’s a toast to biofuels! And Indiana is leading the way.

Biofuel development in Indiana
Governor Mitch Daniels has made top priority for the State of Indiana to invest and develop sources and production of ethanol and biodiesel. That initiative is reality in the all new twelve ethanol plants and four biodiesel plants under development during the past year. When those facilities get into full production in a few years it is estimated by the State that some 600+ new jobs will become reality. Very efficient production lines.

The great news about biofuels is that it is considered a source of renewable energy. Appropriately developed biofuel plants would generate enough fuel to sell in the market and power themselves. It is a closed cycle, where nothing is wasted and everything is reused.

Global biofuel trends

In the past 8 years Biodiesel production jumped ten times to 10.9bn litres per year while Ethanol increased from 20bn litres in 2000 to 66bn litres per year in 2008. These growths are lead by the United States, Brazil and Germany that, together, are responsible for more than half of these volumes, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency's Bioenergy Task 39.

But first, a few concepts:

Biofuel is any fuel that derives from biomass. “Bios” comes from the Greek word for “life”. That is to say that fuel produced from anything that was alive once is, by definition, a biofuel. Gasoline and diesel are biofuels produced from dinosaurs and other matters that were living thousands of years ago, ergo, fossil fuels. Biodiesel and ethanol are being made from plants that were harvested just a little while ago and, as a matter of convention, we name those ‘biofuels’.

Across the world and recent history, biofuels are for the most part being developed from crops. There are alternative studies under way to produce them from biological waste, algae, grass and, even, canabis (funding on this last one is uncertain though).

Biodiesel and Ethanol - Automobiles, from their starting days, were developed running on an alcohol-based fuel rather than fossil fuel. That trend was reversed early on in the automotive industry as oil reserves became abundant in the US and later abroad, at a dirt cheap price. While everyone was drunk happy with the wealth generated by the oil sales, no further investment in fuel alcohol was considered necessary.

Besides, it would be hard to convince law enforcement during the Prohibition Era that one was distilling fuel in their back yard and not moonshine.

As the price of oil soared in the 1970's new entrepreneurs ideas and money flushed into businesses aimed at replacing fossil fuels. It is a great business, that of squeezing plants to extract alcohol and selling it for transportation, as well as drinking, for that matter. The milling principle of fuel and beverage is similar as well as smells, mixing, distilling, etc. The potency of the solution is, as one may guess, different in more than one way.

Like any alcoholic beverage, any vegetable, cereal, fruit or seed can be used for the production of biodiesel just like any vegetable, cereal, fruit or seed, when properly squeezed and mixed, can produce an alcoholic drink. Now – does it taste good? If negative - can you choose running your vehicle with it instead? It depends on how fast and how far one wants to go.

Biodiesel in Germany

As the lead producer of biodiesel worldwide, Germany counts more than 1400 stations selling the fuel and an estimate production of 1 million tons yearly. A cautionary tale comes from their tax policy on the biodiesel industry versus the subsidies such industry earns in other countries.

Ethanol in Brazil

The Ethanol fuel program is 30 years old in Brazil. It was not, however, until the year 2003 when the flex engine motor was implemented – either ethanol or gas would take you where you wanted to go - that utilization by consumers soared. As of 2009 nearly 80% of the country’s fleet is run by flex engines, burning E-85, or 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline.

The Future of Biofuels will be the subject of our next article.  

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