In recent history biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol have become big business around the world. Many countries have taken a keen interest in their continued manufacture and use, including developing countries such as Brazil which is seen as a world leader in biofuel development. Even smaller countries such as the United Kingdom currently use around one and a half million litres of biofuel a year and aim to increase this three-fold within the next 10 years.
But wait, there's a problem.
There is however a significant problem; with the increase in popularity of biofuels as has the level of criticism increased. From the 'food versus fuel' debate, links to food price increases and impact of water resources to concerns over deforestation and loss of biodiversity there are mounting challenges for the fuel to overcome.
But there is hope to be found in a variety of technologies broadly referred to as second generation biofuels. Such fuels are produced from sustainable feedstock rather than the traditionally editable crops used in first generation biofuels (sugarcane, corn etc.) thus avoiding many of the issues mentioned previously.
Hope for the future
One such technology is Algae Fuel, which can produce as much as three hundred times more oil per acre than conventional crops as well as growing twenty to thirty times more quickly. As if these benefits weren't significant enough it is also possible to cultivate algae on traditionally unusable land such as land stricken by drought or containing very high levels of saline.
Another hugely promising fuel is Cellulosic Ethanol which is simply fuel produced from non-edible parts of plants (or indeed grasses and other plants that are inedible). This fuel source shares some benefits with Algae fuel such as high per-acre productivity but has the unique benefit that no special cultivation is required. Cellulose is contained in practically all plants growing across the world.
Or should that be hope for the present?
These may sound like science-fiction but the fact of the matter is that by 2008 the United States was already producing twelve million litres of fuel from cellulosic ethanol with production facilities capable for producing an additional eighty million gallons per year in development.
There is much to be excited about in the Biofuel industry from both a business and ecological perspective and continued growth particularly in second generation technologies seems guaranteed. Such rapid grown represents an exciting time for alternative energy production.
To keep abreast of the latest developments and industry projections for alternative energy and biofuels it's suggested the reader defer to professional biofuel market analysis.