Bioenergy is used to refer to the renewable energy from materials derived from biological sources such as plants and animals. It can also be used to refer to the energy extracted from processed fuel made from biological sources such as ethanol. The energy produced in this way by plants is known as biomass which can be used to either produce biofuels or as a direct sources of fuel itself (such as the burning of manure during the Oregon Trail for cooking and heating purposes). Currently, there is much research being done into ways in which biofuels can be more efficiently converted into electricity, particularly by utilizing fuel cells.
There are a number of different forms for biofuel as it is used for bioenergy today, including both solid and liquid forms. A liquid form that has been receiving a lot of attention lately but in an industrial and commercial sense is biodiesel, or a combination of processed biomass with traditional diesel fuel to reduce carbon emissions and provide an alternative to the currently dwindling fossil fuel supply.
In some instances crops such as corn and sugar cane are grown with the specific goal of producing ethanol, a liquid that can be used in combustion engines. The usage of these crops in the production of bioenergy has led to the prices of these to jump substantially around the globe and for many people this has even affected their daily living and purchasing habits.
While bioenergy is hailed as a viable renewable “ecologically safe” fuel source for the world at the same time it does have a number of drawbacks that are preventing its widespread implementation and usage over traditional fuel sources to date. Some of the main concerns about bioenergy is that it is not necessarily a carbon-friendly fuel source – namely, due to the fact that it produces energy most often from the burning process of biological material it releases carbon dioxide just as any other traditional fuel would. While it’s true that because this carbon dioxide is coming from the burning of living plant matter that is easily renewable the carbon emissions are considered “neutral” this could easily be thrown off balance by heavy deforestation or other processes that destroy plant life and prevent carbon dioxide processing.
Bioenergy is also a difficult to harvest and process fuel source, and in many cases the energy required to sufficiently harvest and process bioenergy crops may be nearly equal to the energy gained from its production. This has led many people to critique the viability of bioenergy compared to other alternative energy sources, however at the same time this is an obstacle that many researches are actively trying to overcome through developments in harvesting and processing technology. While to date this means that bioenergy is still a stable and sufficiently renewable energy source it does not necessarily mean that it will be an economically viable one in the near future, nor one that may necessarily be completely beneficial to the environment as other alternative energy sources such as solar or wind energy hope to achieve.
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