How to Harness Biofuels

Other Types of Biofuels

Biofuels aren't limited to our cars and trucks. In this section we'll take a look at some new ways biofuels are coming into our lives.

People have been gathering around wood fires since the dawn of time. Wood is easy to work with, easy to burn and easy to replace (with proper resource management, anyway). What's different today is the development of a wide range of pellets to feed wood-burning stoves. These stoves are getting much more efficient at burning the stuff, too. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that a 42,000-Btu pellet stove can heat a 1,300-square-foot house -- these units even produce less pollution and have lower maintenance requirements. While wood pellets made from compacted sawdust are the most common, some stoves can also use fuel made from corn, waste paper, nutshells and even dried cherry pits.

A somewhat less celebrated technology takes solid waste like manure from livestock or municipal waste and captures the gases emitted as part of the natural anaerobic decomposition process. This biogas contains high levels of methane, which can be used as a fuel. A briefing by the nonprofit Environmental and Energy Study Institute in 2010 reported that 151 anaerobic digesters (plants which capture the biogas from decomposition) were in operation in the United States, all of which used animal waste as the base material.

While many waste treatment plants traditionally burn off the biogas, it's becoming increasingly recognized as another potential piece in the energy puzzle as we strive to find a more permanent energy solution.

Many of the technologies currently in development to support biofuel implementation are well under way, but can they really help the environment and provide a realistic solution to our energy needs? How is it going to help us? We'll take a look at that in the final section.