Understanding Biofuels – Definition, Types and Uses

Biofuels are any type of fuel processed from biomass. This included algae, plant or animal waste material. Biofuels are renewable energy sources because of the ability to replenish the material they are derived from. These fuels offer the same advantages and characteristics required for an ideal fuel source.

Biofuel is considered as a cost-effective energy source and environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuels such as natural gas, petroleum, and coal.

Why the world needs biofuels

Even though petroleum, coal and other types of fossil fuels are the most common energy sources in the world, they are non-renewable meaning they will one day become unavailable. This has led to a constant increase in the cost of fuel around the world.

It takes millions of years for fossil fuel to form via different geological processes. The cost of extracting these fuels is also very high. Fossil fuels also harm the environment and have led to an increase in global warming. The best way to reverse the risks associated with the use of fossil fuels is by using a safer, more affordable alternative like biofuels.

Types of biofuels


These are types of biofuels that derive their energy from food sources or conventional sources. These sources include sugarcane, animal fats, and corn as well as vegetable oil plants like rapeseeds, soybeans, and jatropha. Types of biofuels derived from these sources include biodiesel, bioethanol, and biogas.

Benefits include:

  • Infrastructure for cultivation is easily available to biofuel companies. This includes lands for cultivations and production techniques.
  • The converting process of sugarcane and corn starch into ethanol is simple.


  • Caution needs to be taken when using food sources for fuel to ensure there is not an imbalance in the food economy. Imbalance can negatively affect the price of food and encourage hunger.
  • Repetitive cultivation of crops used to make biofuels can cause soil erosion if proper guidelines are not followed.

Second generation

Biofuel companies derive these types of biofuels from waste from food resources and non-food sources. They can be derived from:

  • Grasses such as mycanthus and Indian grass.
  • Non-consumable plant materials like agricultural waste and wood chips or even waste from paper production.
  • Plant parts that are non-edible.
  • Waste from landfill gas and humans can be used for the production of power and heat. They emit fewer harmful gases as compared to fossil fuel.
  • Waster vegetable oil can be used to produce biodiesel.

Examples of second-generation biofuels include biodiesel and cellulose ethanol. The disadvantage of using fossil fuels to produce biofuels may lead to the emitting of greenhouse gases.

Third generation

These are the types of biofuels derived from algae. This source is made up of 40% lipids which are converted to synthetic petroleum or biodiesel. Algae can produce the most energy from all the sources.

Examples of biofuels derived from algae include biodiesel, butanol, jet fuel, gasoline, and methane.

The benefits

  • Algae is environmentally friendly. It can be grown in wastewater and can aid in waste decomposition. This is then used for energy production.
  • Algae is easy to cultivate and can be done in multiple areas. These included areas such as open ponds, photobioreactors, sterile environment, and closed-loop systems.

Uses of different biofuels


This can be derived from corn and sugarcane through the process of fermentation. It can be blended with gasoline to produce gasohol. Bioethanol is a better alternative to petrol as it produces very low or zero amounts of harmful gases.


This can be derived from oils such as palm oil, vegetable waste oils, animal fats, and soybean oil through the process of trans-esterification. Biodiesel if an environmentally safer alternative to conventional diesel and produces fewer or no harmful gases.


This is a type of biofuel available in gaseous form. It is produced through the decomposition of fecal matter from animals and humans. This decomposition produces methane gas and residue called slurry. The gas is used as a fuel while the residue can be sued as manure.


Biofuels are the energy sources of the future. The use of waste material to produce energy can help to combat the long term problem many counties face when it comes to disposal of waste.