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Alternative Energy Source : Exploring environment friendly biofuel option

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Saturday, February 9, 2013



Md. Asraful Alam



It is energy availability that would shape the fate of civilization in 21st century. At present the world is faced with two severe problems: energy crisis and environmental degradation. But the trend of increasing energy consumption will be continuing in future. Energy and environment are highly intertwined. The use of fossil fuels is now considered unsustainable for its green house gas (GHG) effects on environment. Exploitation of renewable and sustainable energy is one of the effective solutions to this problem. At present Bangladesh is facing a high power shortage that almost stops our development activities.


Only about 32% of the population has access to electricity and 6% to natural gas. The situation is even worse in the rural area, where only 22% of population has electricity, and no gas supply. Even more, our fossil fuel storage is also limited, and it will be over in near future. For production of electricity and running various factories, Bangladesh’s crude oil consumption has increased radically: The country imports 3.5-4.0 million tons of petroleum and petroleum products per year; spent about $ 5 million in 2011 which is 10% more compared to 2000. Taking into account the trend of economic growth, Bangladesh’s strong dependence on foreign oil cannot be mitigated in the future without developing self-dependent alternatives.


A recent survey reveals that power outages result in a loss of industrial output worth US$1 billion a year which reduces the GDP growth by about half percentage point in Bangladesh. Renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources have therefore become crucial for defining economic and social sustainability of the country. Renewable energy sources including biomass, hydropower, solar, wind and tidal energy need to be built up and exploited.


Biodiesel and bioethanol are still in their infancy in Bangladesh, although their future is promising. A biofuel is any type of liquid or gaseous fuel that can be produced from biomass substances. Common examples are ethanol, methanol and biodiesel. Ethanol can be obtained by yeast or bacteria induced fermentation of sugar crops such as sugar cane, sugar beet and sweet sorghum or of starchy crop, such as corn and cassava or other cellulosic and woody crops. Biodiesel fuels can be obtained from oil crops and algae. The terms first, second and third generation can be used in the contexts of both feedstocks and process. For instance, corn and maize represents first generation ethanol feedsocks, and fermentation represents first generation ethanol production process. However, reservation is growing in this regard.


Second generation biodiesel is obtained from non-food bio-feedstocks. Energy crop such as Jatropha represents the second generation biodiesel feedstock. These feedstocks have the advantage of not affecting the human food chain and can be grown in marginal and waste lands. Lignocellulosic biomass, particularly agricultural residues, is also one of the best choice for biofuel production. Algae are considered to belong to the third generation of biofuel feedstock. These feedstocks offer superior yields when compared to second generation feedstock and do not have any effect on the human food chain. In addition, crops such as algae can grow in places that are not suitable for agriculture, thus providing superior ecological performance as well.


Biodiesel and bioethanol have attracted great attention in the USA, European countries, China, Japan, and India for their significant advantages over fossil diesel. Two priorities in the agenda of Bangladesh government may take place for biodiesel projects, since the country has experienced a drastic increase in oil imports within the past decade, and, on the other hand, biodiesel consumption generates less environment pollutants and mitigates CO2 emission. At present our government and non-government organisations may collect a huge fund from international body for renewable energy research from carbon fund that may facilitate this sector at a rapid pace.


Accurate data is unavailable about oil-bearing plant families and their production and utilization in Bangladesh. Of course of those exploitation of which does not usually confront food security. Jatropha, Mahua and Pongamia plant are main candidates for biodiesel production in Bangladesh. During 2009, while working in a project in Plant Biotechnology Division, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, we planted Jatropha and cassava for a future biodiesel project. But there is no progress of this project due to lack of proper policy and sufficient fund. In Bangladesh KhwajaAgri-Horticultural Research Centre (KAHRC) is the first organization to produce bio-diesel from Jatropha seeds at the Bangladesh Ansar and VDP Academy, Gazipur. Bangladesh environmental condition is favourable for Jatropha plantation as it can grow in dry subtropical region to tropical rain forest. Other energy crops and cellulosic crops may also be used for biodiesel production.


Microalgae are one of the promising feedstock for biofuel production. Bangladesh has huge natural water resources for easy algae cultivation. In addition, farmers can utilise marginal land and brackish and waste water thus not to compete with agriculture for land and water resources. So, large scale cultivation of oleaginous algae holds the potential to alleviate energy crisis, CO2 emission and environmental concerns.


Major obstacles for biofuel production include lack of biofuel crop domestication, low oil yields from crop plants (and undesirable as well) as well as recalcitrance of lignocellulose to chemical and enzymatic breakdown. Enthusiasm for using biotech to meet societal energy challenges is at a level not seen since 1989. Scientists are trying to improve production of ethanol and other biofuels from biomass with the help of additional biotechnological path.


Nowadays researchers are expanding the genetic and genomic resources available for crop improvement, elucidating lipid metabolism to facilitate manipulation of fatty acid biosynthetic pathways and studying how plant cell walls are synthesized and assembled. This knowledge will be used to produce the next generation of biofuel crops by increasing fatty acid content and by optimizing the hydrolysis of plant cell walls to release fermentable sugar that is the key component for biofuel production.


Bangladesh can set up small or medium size biodiesel industry vis-a-vis increasing demand for energy and sufferings due to shortage of crude oil as well as heavy dependence on imported oil for its economic and social development. It is believed that with the modification of relevant laws and regulations, and close co-operation among scientific researchers, institutes, and enterprises, advanced technologies would be put into large scale application in the near future. Advanced technologies are imperative for both sustainable development and environmental protection.



Source: thedailystar






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