Agripedia

What are Biofuel Crops or Energy Crops?

Abhijeet Banerjee
Abhijeet Banerjee
mustard

We all know the importance of Biofuels in India. Today we shall talk about the crops from which Biofuels are produced or manufactured. These crops are popularly known as Biofuels crops. Production of Biofuels is essential in present era, in order to reduce demand pressure of the fossil fuels, especially crude oil. Biofuels crops are often referred as "energy crops". These crops include wheat, corn, major edible oilseeds/edible oils, sugarcane etc. Biofuels have lot of advantages - they burn cleaner than fossil fuels, release fewer pollutants and greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. Also, they are sustainable, and energy companies often mix Biofuels with gasoline. This implies that they have the potential to last much longer unlike oil, coal or natural gas, which are non-renewable resources. List of advantages are many, and most of them have been mentioned in our previous article on Biofuels.  

Biofuels generally fall into two major categories - Bioalcohol & Biodiesel. Bioalcohol such as ethanol, are manufactured through engineering process, using yeast and bacteria to break down the starch in corn and other plants. On the other hand, biodiesel is manufactured by refineries which use the oil, extracted from crops such as soybeans. Soybean oil is first produced from soybean and the vegetable oil is then treated with alcohol to convert into biodiesel finally. Apart from Sugarcane, soybean, corn, or wheat, crops like Canola/Rapeseed, cotton, palm kernels/ and even switch-grass are processed for Biofuel production worldwide. In India, typical crops for Biofuel manufacturing are soybean, canola/rapeseed, sunflower, cottonseed, palm seed and palm kernel, corn and mustard. Now Let us know about the biofuel crops one by one:  

Corn - This crop has a largest contribution in Ethanol production. The corn kernels are first grinded and then mixed with warm water. Finally, yeast is added. The yeast causes the mixture to ferment, or turn into energy-producing alcohol. Ethanol produced from the corn or sugarcane has the advantage of releasing lesser amount of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur into the atmosphere, as compared with energy commodity like gasoline. Ethanol also reduces smog, which can minimize health problems, especially for the urban population.  

Rapeseed - Rapeseed oil is actually used in Biofuel manufacture. For this Rapeseed is crushed or processed first. Rapeseed oil is an important form of biodiesel fuel today. In fact Canola has greater advantage than Rapeseed. Canola is another variety of Rapeseed. Unlike other strains of rapeseed, canola has lower Uric acid content, which makes it healthier for animals and humans to consume. Generally, biodiesel made from vegetable oil does not perform well in cold climates, since most vegetable oil have a higher saturated fat percentage, due to which crystals tend to form and adversely impacts a car’s engine to perform efficiently. But due to lower saturated fat content in canola oil, it is harder for ice to form, in colder temperatures.   

Sugarcane - Other than corn, sugarcane is also used for producing ethanol. Producing ethanol from sugarcane is six times less expensive than producing ethanol from corn.  

Palm Oil - This edible oil is extracted from the fruit of palm trees, and is one of the more energy-efficient biodiesel fuels. Biodiesel from palm oil is advantageous for the ecosystem as it releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when compared with gasoline. 

Jatropha - Another important source for Biofuel since it possesses characteristics, which can be helpful for the world to depend less on crude oil. The Jatropha bush grows quickly, and survives without much hassle, when water availability is limited. Besides, seeds of Jatropha have 40 percent oil content. The Jatropha bush has a lifespan of 50 years, and even if the land is affected by pest attacks or drought, it still grows properly there. Interestingly India's biodiesel industry focuses on this plant, eventually contributing in economic benefits to the farming community. Scientific estimates indicate that roughly 2.47 acres (1 hectare) of Jatropha can produce around 0.83 tons or 752 kilograms to 2.20 tons, i.e. 1995.81 kilograms of oil. 

Soybean - This is crop is processed to produce into Soyabean oil, which is then engineered to manufacture Biodiesel. In the USA, most of the biodiesel used in industries, comes mainly from soybean oil. Motor vehicles, especially heavy equipment and buses, can run on pure soybean biodiesel, or a blend of biodiesel and diesel and as per the National Academy of Sciences, soybean biodiesel is environmentally, friendlier than corn biodiesel. Researchers had conducted experiments to assess the amount of energy needed for growing corn and soybeans, in addition to energy required to convert those crops into bio-fuels. Through experiments it was concluded that quantity of fertilizers and pesticides are required lesser in soybeans. Also, this crop released fewer pollutants, including greenhouse gases, into the environment, versus corn crop. Studies also revealed that one bushel (25.40 Kgs) of soybeans normally produces roughly 1.5 gallons or approximately 5.7 liters of biodiesel.  

biofuel crop

Cotton seed – It is the oil produced after crushing of cotton seed. Cotton oil is then transformed into biodiesel. Studies have indicated that in order to replace gallon (3.78 liters) of standard diesel fuel, more than 1 gallon (3.78 liters) of cottonseed is required. According to experts from University of California, an acre of cottonseed produces 35 gallons (132.5 liters) of oil, which is nearly 33% lower than the oil obtained from rapeseed.  

Sunflower - Sunflower seed crop is rich in oil, therefore this oilseed turns out be an important biofuel crop. According to the National Sunflower Association, 1 acre, i.e. 0.4 hectares of sunflowers can produce 600 pounds (272.1 kilograms) of oil. Refineries either process the sunflower oil into biodiesel or utilize the plant waste as biomass, and then involve in fueling factories and power plants.  

Wheat - Wheat is used in manufacturing Ethanol. In the US, nearly 90% of ethanol is produced through corn. Therefore wheat contributes less in conversion to ethanol. In Europe, use of wheat as an energy crop is on the rising trend.  

Switch Grass - It is another biofuel crop and is gaining attention from scientists because of its underlying potential to reduce the world's dependency for oil and save the planet from global warming as well. It ranks better from corn, in context to requirement of relatively lesser energy than the conventional/fossil fuels in using the cellulose (present in switch grass) to convert into ethanol. Additionally, there is significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as cellulose ethanol contains more energy than corn ethanol. Scientists are currently working on various methods to seek switchgrass as next best alternative for energy supply in longer run. However there are no big switch grass plantations or farms at present.

According to scientists of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, every acre of sunflower can produce 1,150 gallons of ethanol annually. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is an American multiprogramming science and technology national laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and administered, managed, and operated by UT–Battelle as a federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) under a contract with the DOE.  

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