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Almost everything we do today revolves around one fundamental aspect — energy. Think of something you do on a regular basis: watching TV, listening to music, travelling to school or work, and even reading this article. You wouldn’t be able to do any of these things without energy.
The problem is, the world’s known energy resources are running out, and at the same time the world’s population is growing.
It is expected that the world’s population will reach 9 billion people by the year 2050. What’s more, the number of cars on the road is also expected to triple by the same time. To cope with this huge increase in demand, we will need all the sustainable energy options available to us.
Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to complete a two month internship with Shell, focusing on biofuels. Now I know it sounds a bit technical, but it’s actually quite simple, and you’ve probably used biofuels in your car without even noticing. Biofuels are just fuels made from biological sources, also called biomass, which contain stored energy. Think of biomass as nature’s batteries! Biofuels can be made from things like corn, grasses, seed oils, sugarcane, wood, agricultural waste, and algae. They offer a number of benefits that make them attractive alternatives to petrol and diesel.
Firstly, they have lower greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels, which is always a good thing! The exact amount depends on many factors like where the biomass comes from, and how it’s processed and used, but it’s a good start. Secondly, they help reduce dependence on oil based fuels, which in turn could help lower prices, another good thing! Lastly there’s the issue of rural development, and how biofuels could generate economic and environmental benefits for a number of developing countries. A recent Harvard University report suggested that ‘developing the potential of biofuels as a new export industry could connect developing country workers and their communities with the global economy’.
All in all, it sounds very promising.
There are a few concerns surrounding biofuels, but these can be eliminated by using ‘Advanced Biofuels’, like algae for example. Advanced biofuels offer all of the benefits but none of the drawbacks of current biofuels (1st generation), are more sustainable, environmentally friendlier, and have lower greenhouse gas emissions. Advanced biofuels are only a short time away from being a viable commercial option, and research is ongoing into how this could happen.