Last month we dove into the topic of The Future Of Green Energy in the Construction Industry. We elaborated on a few construction vehicles and where the path seems to be heading. The future of construction is hugely important to the world. We need homes and businesses to be built but we also need nature and to reduce our emissions. So the construction industry needs to find affordable ways of converting current vehicles and systems to sustainable/renewable energy sources. One of these ways is biofuel. Here we are going to take a look at some biofuel basics and their role in construction.
The term biofuel may seem like it is self explanatory but let me assure you that it is far more interesting than just being an environmentally friendlier version of petroleum based fuels. There are also a few different types of biofuels, sometimes referred to as generations of biofuel to imply the evolutionary pathway in which it is developed. The most common, or 1st generation, biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel. Both of which are already on the market and have been used in petroleum based fuels as well.
Most of us have heard the word ethanol but I would say that the majority are also quite unaware about what it actually is and how it is made. Ethanol is a renewable fuel made from plant materials known as biomass. In the case of ethanol, starches and sugars tend to make up most of the biomass used in production.
Ethanol is made through the process of fermentation. During fermentation, microorganisms metabolise the sugars to then produce ethanol. It is an alcohol that is most often used as a blending agent in petroleum based fuels to reduce carbon monoxide and increase octane.
Biodiesel is a little different from ethanol. It is a liquid fuel produced from new and used vegetable oils as well as animal fats. The simplest explanation for how it is made would be that the vegetable oils or animal fat is mixed with alcohol, such as ethanol, to create biodiesel. It is considered a cleaner option for the environment as it is non-toxic and biodegradable.
Renewable Hydrocarbon “Drop in” Fuels
These fuels are also produced from biomass resources. Making it a sustainable fuel source as well. As different biomass materials are used the process of extracting the fuel is slightly different. The process uses biological and thermochemical processes to break down the biomass and extract the much-needed “biocrude”. This fuel has been identified as almost identical to petroleum based fuels, which means it can be used in current infrastructure.
Why are Biofuels Important?
There are a few reasons biofuels are important. The impact of a change to biofuels has the potential to decrease environmental pollution and increase economic gains. It could be what gives us the edge we need to be able to reduce the cost of fuel, build residential and commercial properties and bring down the cost of living.
The most prominent argument for biofuels is the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutant emissions compared to petroleum based fuels widely used today. Petroleum fuels are not produced locally in many countries, creating a global reliance on other nations. The production of these fuels is energy intensive and then requires shipping in many cases. Whereas biofuels can be produced locally and do not require drilling of any kind. Reducing the emissions during production and burning cleaner than petroleum fuels.
From an economic perspective, biofuels have the potential for increasing farm income. With more research going into the use of non edible parts of plants to be used as biomass will likely increase that potential. Locally produced biofuels made from sustainable resources are theoretically going to become cheaper and easier to manage in comparison to petroleum fuels. Ultimately allowing for a better market price for customers. Hopefully, also then bringing a little more stability to the economy again.
On the other hand, we may find that biofuels could increase emissions if the farming and production is not well regulated. Plus, in order for these options to become the more affordable one we would all need to adopt the use thereof to push the scales into biofuels favour. My guess is that for now it may be difficult but changes in resources will inevitably push for a sustainable future.
Biofuels in Construction
The construction industry uses a fair amount of fuel and other resources. It is by no means a cheap endeavour and you can always expect to be spending more on something like fuel due to influences outside of your control.
A fuel such as biodiesel is a great option for construction vehicles. It has lower emissions, it is non-toxic, causes very mild skin irritation and it is generally very low on the water pollution scale. The only real downside is that biodiesel is biodegradable and retains a fairly short shelf life.
In the end, current fuels used in construction are not renewable and will run out eventually. This means that a new resource needs to be used in order to continue building and continue having a habitable planet. For right now, biodiesel offers the best all around and over time may become competitive in price with diesel to make it more attractive to more construction companies.
Though we are seemingly still at the beginning of biofuels and all the changes like electric vehicles, it is change that happens exponentially quicker each year. Tech is notorious for fast paced changes and it has shown no signs of slowing down.
The best for now is to follow the developments and make the move over to sustainability at the right moment. This can be done by companies, governments and individuals. Together we can make a difference for our future while maintaining a good quality life.