Bus fueled by biodiesel

Humans have used biomass energy since the time when people began burning wood to make fire. Biomass is still the only source of fuel for home use in many developing countries.

Clean energy

Biomass a renewable energy source. Biomass is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. It most often refers to plants or plant-derived materials which are specifically called lignocellulosic biomass. Biomass can be used

  • directly by burning to produce heat
  • indirectly after converting it to various forms of biofuel using thermal, chemical, and biochemical methods

Biofuel – a fuel that uses energy from biomass – a carbon fixation by living organisms such as plants and microalgae. The biofuel from the biomass conversion may be in solid, liquid, or gas form. Biofuels include biodiesel, bioethanol, methane, and even solid biofuel made from dried algae or cow poo.

So technically, wood, plants and algae are biomass. Anything made from these is biofuel.

Biodiesel – a vegetable oil- or animal fat-based diesel fuel consisting of long-chain alkyl ( methyl, propyl or ethyl) esters. Biodiesel is typically made by chemically reacting lipids (e.g., vegetable oil, animal fat ( tallow)) with an alcohol producing fatty acid esters.

  • Blends of biodiesel and conventional hydrocarbon-based diesel are products most commonly distributed for use in the retail diesel fuel marketplace. Blends of 20% biodiesel and lower can be used in diesel equipment with no, or only minor modifications.

There is lots of research going on to find more and better ways to use biomass and make biofuel.

  • Husk Power Systems – cleaner, more sustainable, and widely available energy in remote places thanks to biomass-based power plants, utilizing proprietary gasification technology, converting abundant agricultural residue (farming throwaways) into electricity. This energy is distributed to households via 84 microgrids. The power generated is better quality – fewer outages, a steadier supply – and cheaper.
  • Algae Biofuel – Microalgae-based biofuel has the potential to fulfill some of the world’s energy demands. Microalgae produces much higher yields of fuel-producing biomass than other traditional fuel feedstocks and it doesn’t compete with food crops. Algae yields about 2,500 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. In contrast, soybeans yield approximately 48 gallons; corn about 18 gallons. It is estimated that some countries could produce enough algal biofuel to supplement more than 30 percent of their fuel consumption.

What’s the problem?
Poo-powered bus – Geneco’s new Bio-Bus is powered by gas generated via the treatment of sewage and food waste.

  • Ask – What were the very earliest engineering challenges to using biomass? What are some of the engineering improvements in biomass use as a sustainable energy? What are some of the barriers to wider adoption of biofuel use that engineers will need to solve?
  • Imagine – What are some sources of biomass that are not being used for biofuel today? Why not? What special considerations are needed to use these sources? One of the biggest sources of biomass is human and animal waste – or poo. There is a serious “ick” factor with these sources of energy. People don’t like the idea that they are using animal waste, even when it has been processed and is being put to good use.
  • Design, Build – One of the important “design” considerations for using poo for biofuel, convince people that this is a good thing. Actually treating waste and converting it into usable biofuel is pretty easy.
  • Improve – As the population of the world grows and more people live in cities, getting rid of human and animal waste is becoming a big problem. By finding acceptable ways to use poo,

That’s engineering

  • Biochemistry – the study of the chemical processes in living organisms. It deals with the structure and function of cellular components, such as proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and other biomolecules. Chemical biology aims to answer many questions arising from biochemistry by using tools developed within chemical synthesis.
  • energy – a measurable quantity that describes the state of matter and its ability to perform work. There are many forms of energy, like the kinetic energy that describes the force behind the motion of a body or heat that describes the amount of thermal energy delivered.

Engineering ideas

  • thermal, chemical, biochemical, solid, liquid, gas, energy conversion

Do it
Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • Energy Information – Games & Activities – try some of these activities to learn more about energy
  • Energy calculators – explore energy units and conversions – From gallons to British thermal units (Btu), kilowatthours to megajoules, short tons to metric tons — this handy calculator converts from one energy unit to another.

Learn more…

  • Renewable energy – Renewable energy sources including biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar provide 8% of the energy used in the United States. Most renewable energy goes to producing electricity.