What is biofuel?

With current interest in biofuels on the rise, it is important to understand the difference between fossil fuels and biofuels.  Fossil fuels are those that are derived from deposits of formerly living organisms such as plants and animals from several hundred million years ago. Coal, petroleum, and natural gas are examples of fossil fuels.  Since these fuels are derived from sources that are millions of years old, they are termed nonreneweable.  Nonrenewable resources are those that can't quickly or easily be replaced once taken from the earth.

As the use of fuels continues to rise with growing populations and further industrial and commercial development around the world, there is more of a need for fuel sources that are renewable. Biofuels are fuels derived from living, or recently living organisms which makes them renewable.  Examples of biofuels are soy biodiesel, corn ethanol, and bio-oil from perennial grasses. Biofuel can be used for heating, fuel for vehicles, and more. Biofuels are primarily intended to supplement the supply of transportation fuels.

Corn ethanol pump (1933, left), Biodiesel bus(1994, middle), Flex-fuel E85 vehicle (2012, right). These pictures demonstrate biofuel use is not a novel idea but new approaches to improve their efficiency continues to evolve.  Photo credit to Nebraska state historical society (left), National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, middle), Nebraska corn board (right).