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How Biofuel is Made

The energy that we get from biofuels originally came from the sun. This solar energy was captured through photosynthesis by the plants used as feedstocks (raw materials) for biofuel production, and stored in the plants' cells.

Many different plant materials can be used for biofuel:

  • Sugar crops (such as sugar cane or sugar beet), or starch (like corn or maize) can be fermented to produce ethanol, a liquid fuel commonly used for transportation.
  • Natural oils from plants like oil palm, soybean, or algae can be burned directly in a diesel engine or a furnace, or blended with petroleum, to produce fuels such as biodiesel.
  • Wood and its byproducts can be converted into liquid biofuels, such as methanol or ethanol, or into woodgas.
  • Wood can also be burned as solid fuel, like the familiar firewood. Chipped waste biomass, such as the tops of trees discarded by logging operations, can be burned in specially designed furnaces.

Researchers are working to improve biofuel production processes. Before bioenergy can make a larger contribution to the energy economy, feedstocks, agricultural practices, and technologies that are efficient in their use of land, water and fossil fuel must be developed.

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