Biofuel Examples: Which Ones do I Need to Know?


  • What examples can we give for biofuels? Biofuels can be divided into two categories. There are biofuels that are easy to process from starchy biogenic materials, and there are biofuels that require complex processes similar to refinery processes in the downstream petroleum industry. In many cases, biofuels are divided into first-generation and second-generation biofuels. This distinction is rather arbitrary. The differences are more gradual, because all biofuels come from carbon-rich biogenic sources.
  • What is burned or contained in the processed starchy mass is the carbon. The carbon content in and of itself is the substance that has a high calorific value. Processing this starchy mass reduces the energy yield of the fuel accordingly.
  • Energy must be expended to produce a homogeneous, carbon-rich, energy-dense, high-calorific fuel with a low temperature threshold, in liquid form.
  • The carbon content of biofuels is essentially similar to that of hydrocarbons from oil and gas. The difference may be in the residues that must be removed from the crude oil to obtain a purer hydrocarbon fuel. Since not all residues can be removed, and to achieve the right consistency for diesel engines, etc., hydrocarbon fuels of different types are often blended. For example, Venezuelan crude oil can be blended with American crude oil.


We are talking about fossil remnants of a bygone era that are with us to this day. We depend on these fossil biogenic energy sources for our mobility, our chemical industry, for heating and to drive our economy. To refine this argument, we need to distinguish three subtypes of fossil fuels, namely coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

It is generally believed that petroleum originated from algae and other fossilized organic matter. This organic material was embedded in the geological layers of the earth. The organic matter was shaped by earth pressure and geothermal heat. Natural gas is a gaseous substance derived from fossilized remains. Coal comes from oxygen-poor surface waters where energy-rich organic material was buried layer by layer. The pressure and heat generated in the earth’s interior charred the compressed woody material.


Wood is a natural resource that has been used to generate heat and light throughout human history. In fact, biomass was the first type of fuel we used as an energy source to keep us warm and light the night. It wasn’t until much later that we discovered charcoal, which allowed us to generate much greater heat to melt metals and shape them into various forms. 

The low energy yield of biomass implies that it is largely unsuitable for industrial use. The energy is not sufficient to power industrial processes. Energy from biomass is generally not a reliable, steady source of energy like fossil fuels are. Nevertheless, biomass is a more stable fuel source than, for example, wind energy.

Industry needs an energy source with a much higher energy yield to make the enterprise profitable. This means that industry needs energy sources with an energy surplus. Most biomass sources, such as wood, have little more energy stored in them than it takes to grow them. This also explains why it was so difficult for pre-industrial societies to grow crops economically. Pre-industrial societies simply lacked the energy sources. They were not able to power even their very limited state of industry.

Pre-industrial societies failed to exploit abundant energy sources. They consequently maintained a steady state of economic development. In times of low solar radiation, this could lead to dramatic changes in the social functioning of such a society. A stationary economy, such as existed in pre-industrial Europe, relied on pre-industrial agricultural practices to sustain sparse energy consumption.


Sugar cane plays an important role in Brazil and Indonesia. The United States has also gotten into the sugarcane business. Interest peaked before the 2008 financial crisis, and since then, interest in tight oil and tight gas has surged in the United States. Tight oil and tight gas are seen as viable alternatives to sugarcane production. In fact, tight oil and tight gas are cheaper to produce in terms of their energy yield. They allow for economies of scale. These are some of the factors that complicate sugarcane production in the United States.

In Brazil, sugarcane has achieved amazing success. In fact, sugarcane has become a mainstay of the energy industry. There are a number of factors to explain this tremendous success. These factors are the availability of land in Brazil, heavy rainfall in many locations, strong solar radiation, relative geographic isolation from world markets, and a lack of alternative energy sources. 


Biofuels come from a variety of sources. As industrialization progressed beyond the 19th century, we became more capable of producing biofuels through fuel extraction. The technology did not exist before. Of particular importance are biofuels from algae, which are abundant in nature and should be easy to grow. The emphasis is on “should be easy to grow.” Indeed, the production of biofuels from algae is in itself energy intensive. Algae biofuel production often requires industrial processes and large supply chains to deliver the fuel to customers. Algae biofuel will most likely need to be blended with other fuels to make it viable as a transportation fuel, where it is most likely to be used.

The key point is that advanced biofuels require a number of industrial processes. It is quite difficult to accurately measure the actual environmental impact of advanced biofuels. They rely on an existing infrastructure based on fossil fuels.

Algae fuels and similar second-generation biofuels require complex procedures that ultimately reduce energy yield. This is a drag on further investment in second-generation biofuels.


  • Several examples of biofuels were given. To categorize different biofuel types, we divide the market into first-generation and second-generation biofuels. Second-generation biofuels are difficult to manage. Investments in supply chains, processing options, and scaling operations are significant. All of these small steps add costs that reduce profits. 
  • Less capital is being invested in biofuels than a few years ago. There has been less investment in biofuels research and development. To a layman, at least, it looks like biofuel research cannot keep up with other emerging research areas such as electromobility and hydrogen fuel cells. There are many reasons for this.
  • This may have led to a significant decline in biofuels innovation. The incentive to conduct research in this specific area has been eclipsed in favor of other research areas. Specific research areas such as sugarcane commercialization have been affected. 
  • Waste-to-fuel conversion technologies, chemical recycling, and similar processes for using biogenic materials are still in their infancy. Full commercialization is still years away. Extensive research has been undertaken in the field of pyrolysis and gasification technology for the waste-to-fuel industry.

Many thanks for the shared interest in the energy world!

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