Beneficial Biofuels: The Food, Energy and Environment Trilemma.

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Dr. Ashwani Kumar

Professor of Botany (Emeritus) Former

Hon Director, Life Sciences and Head Department of Botany,

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Jaipur, 302004.


Phone  00 91 141 654100  Fax   00 91 141 565905 Email.



The 21st century may be remembered as a turning point in energy. Meeting the energy demands of our growing population - while addressing CO2 reduction - remain the central issue for businesses, governments, and individuals alike. Biofuels can be produced in large quantities and have multiple benefits, but only if they come from feedstocks produced with low life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, as well as minimal competition with food production.. There is a renewed interest in evaluating crop species as alternative sources of non-conventional energy since fossil fuels are quickly being depleted. Solar energy is converted into a wide variety of by-products by green plants that are competitive with synthetic petrochemicals, especially plants containing secondary metabolites such as, oil and hydrocarbon, that are attractive alternate energy and chemical sources.  There is significant scope then to  integrate biomass energy with agriculture, forestry and climate change policies for example in the context of international measures directed at greenhouse gas emissions, such as clean development mechanisms.


Utilization of biomass for energy and industry allows a significant quantity of hydrocarbons to be consumed without increasing the CO2 content of the atmosphere and thus makes a positive contribution to the Greenhouse effect and to the problems of “global change” as occurs in both industrialized and developing countries. Further the advantages from utilization of biomass include: liquid fuels produced from biomass contain no sulfur, thus avoiding SO2   emissions and also reducing emission of N0x.  The production of compost as a soil conditioner avoids deterioration of soil and reduces pollution of waterways and groundwater. Utilization of whole-plant oils as an alternative source of conventional oils and major industrial feedstocks is gaining greater importance throughout the world (Kumar, 2008) Terpenoids constitute the largest family of natural plant products with over 30,000 members(Wu et al., 2006).

Understanding of terminology important when discussing biofuels

Biofuels have been written about and discussed in recent years, but some of the terminology surrounding the development of biofuels can be confusing. Following are descriptions of several terms as described by the Bioenergy Feedstock Information Network.

Bioenergy: Useful, renewable energy produced from organic matter - the conversion of the complex carbohydrates in organic matter to energy. Organic matter may either be used directly as a fuel, processed into liquids and gasses, or be a residual of processing and conversion.

Biodiesel: Fuel derived from vegetable oils or animal fats. It is produced when a vegetable oil or animal fat is chemically reacted with an alcohol.

Biofuels: Fuels made from biomass resources, or their processing and conversion derivatives. Biofuels include ethanol, biodiesel, and methanol.

Biogas: A combustible gas derived from decomposing biological waste under anaerobic conditions. Biogas normally consists of 50 to 60 percent methane.

Biomass: Any organic matter that is available on a renewable or recurring basis, including agricultural crops and trees, wood and wood residues, plants (including aquatic plants), grasses, animal residues, municipal residues, and other residue materials. Biomass is generally produced in a sustainable manner from water and carbon dioxide by photosynthesis. There are three main categories of biomass - primary, secondary, and tertiary(