Ukrainian Industrial Portal, by Maxim Ovcharenko,
Published on June 23, 2018
Ukrainian agrarians already grow crops suitable for bioethanol and biodiesel production. How to use the full potential of such plants?
While Tesla, led by Ilona Masko, is increasing the production of electric cars, internal combustion engines keep their positions. For work, they still need fuel, reportsInnovation House.
Typically, fuel is produced from petroleum products. But there is an alternative: bioethanol and biodiesel, the raw materials of which are plants. These are renewable energy sources, besides producing them from raw materials that literally grows under our feet.
Ukraine has all the prerequisites for the production of eco-friendly. Firstly, we have an agricultural country with large volumes of growing crops for food needs. According to the State Statistics Service, in 2017, under the grain and leguminous crops, 14,6 million hectares of land was allocated, under the technical – 9,16 million hectares, under the feed – 1,8 million hectares.
Secondly, Ukraine is energy dependent: it imports gasoline, diesel fuel, gas, nuclear fuel and even coal. We do not have enough of our energy resources to satisfy our domestic needs.
Consequently, instead of exporting vegetable products alone, it would be possible to produce alternative types of liquid fuel, both for export and for domestic consumption. That is what the European countries are doing, importing vegetable oils and processing imported biofuels. The US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Economic Service has estimated that more than 5% of the total EU fuel used by the transport industry is biofuels. According to the directive on renewable energy sources 2009 / 28 / EC, up to 2020, the share of renewable fuel in the transport sector of each EU country should be at least 10%. Consequently, the United States sees rising demand for liquid biofuels and the potential for its export to Europe.
In Ukraine, the production of alternative liquid fuel is virtually absent. Only mini-production works to meet their own needs. But we are already taking the first steps at the legislative level for the development of domestic biofuel production. The Verkhovna Rada has a bill number 7348, which should improve the situation with the production of renewable fuels. In April this year, a draft resolution on the adoption of this bill was also launched in parliament.
The “House of Innovations” looked at which plants, in their properties, are optimal for the production of biofuels. Most of them are already growing in Ukraine.
People have used rapeseed oil for centuries to cook and light their homes. Today rape is a valuable raw material for biodiesel production, especially in Europe. Therefore, it is not surprising that in Ukraine, with its fertile soils, sufficient rainfall and temperate climate, rape is a very popular culture and occupies 785 000 ha. At the same time, it is a great raw material for the production of environmental fuels. Moreover, the oil produced by this plant has an almost perfect fatty acid composition for the production of high-quality biodiesel fuel. High yields of rape make it possible to maintain the profitability of its cultivation, as well as the production of rapeseed oil, which is directly converted into biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel, made from rape, is very effective, especially for heavy machinery, and farms can produce it for themselves.
Sunflowers are mostly grown for food purposes. It is both oil and seeds that contain vitamins and many nutrients. The sunflower can be grown under different soil conditions, but it produces the greatest yields in well drained soils with high moisture content. Although less rape, but it also depletes fertile land. Therefore, the use of this plant for processing on fuel for a long time was not interesting. However, sunflower oil is a great raw material for biodiesel production, it actually has the same qualitative composition as rapeseed.
Ukraine is the world’s leading exporter of sunflower oil. Given the high oil exports (both sunflower and rapeseed) and the fact that biodiesel production does not require sophisticated equipment, it would be advisable to use up-to-date technologies for the production of such fuels in Ukraine. After all, in Europe, Ukrainian biodiesel is already producing biodiesel with good profitability. In addition, sunflower oil is more environmentally friendly than diesel, because it emit less carbon monoxide during combustion in the engine.
In terms of crop area, soybean is ahead of other oilseeds in the US, which makes it possible to produce enormous amounts of soybean oil. So it is not surprising that the United States is the world’s largest producer of soybean oil – more than 10 million tons per year. This makes soy affordable raw material for the production of biofuels. Soya is a major crop in much of North America, South America and Asia.
In 2017 year, the crop area of soy in Ukraine was almost 2 million hectares, which makes this culture promising in our country for bio-fuels. The plant itself contains relatively little oil – up to 20%, whereas rape and sunflower may contain more than 40%. But this does not prevent successful use of soy as one of the main sources for biodiesel production.
You may have never heard of yatropha, but in recent years, this plant is growing at an alarming pace for biodiesel producers. Jatropha – a tropical shrub poisonous for humans and livestock, but the most important is the fact that seed of the species Jatropha curcas contains up to 40% of oil. The plant, whose life span can reach 50years, grows rapidly and yields even on land damaged by drought or pests. But despite such unpretentiousness, to obtain the maximum amount of oil still need fertile soil and periodic irrigation.
The largest producers of jatropha are India and the countries of Africa. Today, the Indian biodiesel industry regards this plant as perhaps the main resource for the production of eco-friendly, while using unsuitable land for growing food crops. At the same time, scientists continue to produce better varieties with higher yields, and a number of African countries are financing such studies, since they link their future energy independence to the yatropha.
Wheat is a well-known culture, especially in Ukraine. First of all, it is associated with fragrant and delicious baked bread. Wheat is also one of many plants from which you can get ethyl alcohol. And not only for the production of vodka, but also for the supply of gasoline engines. Of course, using pure ethyl alcohol as a complete fuel for internal combustion engines is not yet possible. But this is not needed, because ethyl alcohol can be added to ordinary gasoline, with which it mixes well and forms a composition with properties of high-grade gasoline, for example, marks А95.
Bioethanol is obtained as a result of alcohol fermentation followed by rectification. Unlike food alcohol, fuel bioethanol contains almost no water (less than 0,1%). Its main weight is ethyl alcohol with a small amount of other alcohols (for example, methyl), which makes it unsuitable for food, but effective in fuel mixtures for automobile engines.
An alternative to wheat as a raw material for ethanol is corn. This is one of the oldest crops grown by the Mayan and Aztec tribes in Central America for their nutritional needs. Since then, maize has become widespread in North America. Today, the main corn producer in the world is the USA with a volume of more than 350 million tons per year. Therefore, it is not surprising that maize ethanol production technologies in the United States play an important role and the industry is constantly evolving.
For the alcohol in the process of fermentation use only corn grain, because it comes out cheaper than the use of the whole plant. After all, corn stalks and leaves contain cellulose, which is harder and more expensive to convert to ethyl alcohol. However, researchers are trying to make this process more economical. Scientists from the University of Michigan have released a strain of corn with special enzymes, which facilitates the conversion of cellulose to sugar, from which then they receive ethanol. According to researchers, their achievement will make the production of ethanol from vegetable waste cheaper and less time-consuming.
Sugar beet is more suitable for ethanol production than corn. Beetroot is not as demanding in the climate and needs less water and crops for cultivation. In addition, an important advantage of the production of ethanol from beets is the simplicity of their processing. To get ethanol, say, corn, you must first split sugar starch, and sugar beets do not need this stage. This reduces the cost of ethanol production. In addition, in the process of converting beets to sugar and ethanol, it gives little waste, as a significant part of the raw material can be converted into fuel and fertilizers.
Over the past year, Ukraine has processed more than 14 million tonnes of sugar for sugar. At the same time, internal needs in sugar are completely satisfied. That is, there are real prospects for sugar processing on ethyl alcohol, which can be used as fuel. In addition, sugar production produces waste (molasses, pulp), which are also raw materials for fuel ethanol. Therefore, in our conditions (many sugar factories, most of which do not function) sugar beets – one of the most profitable raw materials for the production of alternative environmental alcoholic gasoline.
This rich culture of sugar is grown massively in South America, in particular, for the production of bioethanol. The climate of the continent is extremely favorable for the cultivation of sugarcane, and countries such as Brazil did not waste their chance. When the price of oil rose, the government urged its farmers to plant more sugar cane. Brazil has invested billions of dollars to make the transition from oil fuel to ethyl alcohol, and as a result, sugar cane ethanol has become cheaper than gasoline. By the middle of 1980s, every Brazilian driver ran a car that worked on a mixture of ethanol and gasoline. Today, almost all the cars in this country have engines that can run on gasoline and ethanol. The production of ethyl alcohol from sugar cane is six times cheaper than corn production. Rearing cane requires less chemicals, especially pesticides and fertilizers, and therefore it is economically feasible, especially in South America.
Researchers do not stop there. Scientists from the University of Illinois (USA) have created a genetically modified variety of sugar cane, which can be grown on scarce, unsuitable for food crops. In addition, this variety contains more than unmodified varieties of oil, while retaining almost the same amount of sugar. This allows simultaneously to extract from the plant two types of biofuels – bioethanol and biodiesel, which makes the process even more cost-effective and technologically more efficient.
Sugar sorghum is a great alternative to corn, sugar cane and sugar beet. Cultivation of this plant for biofuel production is extremely attractive, as sugar sorghum can be successfully cultivated in arid areas in order not to occupy the best agricultural land.
Scientists have not long been interested in this plant as a source of ethyl alcohol. Sugar sorghum has high yields (130 t / ha) and sugar content (15-25%). Domestic researchers from the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine have already begun the development of an effective and economical technology for producing fuel ethanol from sorghum. So, one can hope that sugar sorghum in the future will be a real alternative to sugar beet in Ukraine.
The biggest disadvantage of the above-mentioned plants is the need for large areas of land to be allocated for their cultivation. Algae are devoid of this disadvantage and can produce more liquid fuel per square meter of occupied area than terrestrial crops. For the rapid growth of algae, permanent access to sunlight and large amounts of carbon dioxide is required. This can be realized if the installations for growing algae near industrial objects with constant emissions of CO₂ into the atmosphere are located – thus, it will utilize harmful greenhouse gases, which will not be able to rise even a couple of meters from the ground.
Interestingly, algae, depending on their species, can produce various chemical components of biofuels: ethyl alcohol for gasoline engines, vegetable oil for the production of biodiesel, even “bionafta”, which can be converted into several types of fuel. This gives grounds to talk about the rich energy potential of algae, and today scientists are working hard to create energy-intensive aquatic plants and cost-effective technologies for the production of liquid fuels from algae.