About Chemistry, Environment, Waste Management and Green Life Inspirations

14 August 2010

Fourth Generation Biofuels

Fourth generation biofuels is a term that I’ve seen presented as various different technologies so it’s hard to really define exactly what these fuels are. One definition of a fourth generation biofuel is crops that are genetically engineered to consume more CO2 from the atmosphere than they’ll produce during combustion later as a fuel. Another definition is genetically engineered crops similar to the ones just mentioned but combined with synthesized microbes that will convert the biofuels produced into even more efficient fuel. For example a plant could be grown then converted into a fuel which is then exposed to a microbe that changes it directly into gasoline. Yet another definition is genetically modified or synthesized microbes that convert CO2 in the atmosphere directly into usable fuels.
With all these different definitions of what a fourth generation biofuel is its no wonder that it can be so hard to find a solid explaination. The answer is that no one really knows what a fourth generation biofuel is yet except everyone seems to agree it involves genetic modifications.
However, even though it involves genetic modifications that can’t be the sole definition. Let me recap the different biofuel generations for you. First generation biofuels are the fuels currently in use such as biodiesel. Second generation biofuels are similar fuels but produced from non-food crops. Third generation biofuels are genetically modified crops that capture more CO2 from the atmosphere resulting in a carbon neutral fuel. This third generation is why fourth generation has to be more than simply genetically modified crops. So, what is a fourth generation biofuel then? I would define a fourth generation biofuel as biofuels that result in a negative carbon impact when combusted.
Since third generation biofuels result in a carbon neutral impact and many examples of a fourth generation biofuel mention more carbon being consumed than is released during use this seems like a suitable definition.
The idea of a carbon negative biofuel is an extremely good one if you’re concerned about the effects of global warming due to CO2 levels in our atmosphere. Not only would it allow us to have a renewable non-food crop based biofuel for various uses but also cut down on global warming so it’s a sort of double whammy. I’m personally not convinced global warming is due to increased CO2 levels but it’s good to know there are viable solutions already reaching laboratory enviornments and not just stuck in theory.

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