What are biofuels?

Using biofuels to create a cleaner future

There has been a hunt for cleaner and sustainable energy sources for many years. Biofuels are emerging as a source of sustainable fuel, bridging the gap between traditional fossil fuels and renewable energy options. Derived from organic materials such as plants and algae, biofuels not only promise a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions but also present an opportunity to harness waste products and cultivate energy crops.

As global concern for the environment intensifies, understanding the intricacies of biofuels, their benefits, and potential drawbacks becomes vital. Read on to answer all your biofuel queries, and learn about where innovation meets sustainability.


What are biofuels?

Biofuels are renewable sources of energy derived from biological materials such as plant and algae biomass. Made by fermentation of plant-based material, hydrotreatment or esterification of plant-based oils.

They are used primarily as an alternative to fossil fuels in transportation and industrial applications.

What are some common ingredients of biofuels?

Biofuels primarily use organic materials. Common ingredients include corn, sugarcane, soybeans, algae, and waste products like vegetable oils and animal fats.

What are the types of biofuels?

Biofuels can be made from three main processes. fermentation of plant-based material, hydrotreatment or esterification of plant-based oils.

Biofuels can also be categorised based the raw materials used:
• 1st generation: use crops as source of biomass
• 2nd generation: use waste as source of biomass
• 3rd generation: use microorganisms as source of biomass

Each type has its own advantages and challenges, such as impact on food supply, energy efficiency, carbon emissions, and scalability.

How do you make biofuels?

Biofuels can be made in three main processes, Fermentation, Hyrodtreatment, Esterifcation:



Ethanol made from biomass and meeting the requirements of EN15376, the standard for ethanol that can be mixed with petrol in pump fuel. Currently blended into pump gasoline at up to 5% (98RON E5) or 10% (95RON E10). Higher blend ratios are also possible such as E85.

ETG: Bioethanol further processed to produce biogasoline which is functionally equivalent to fossil-derived gasoline meeting EN228, the standard for pump petrol/gasoline available on the forecourt.


Methanol made from biomass feedstocks. It can be blended in with gasoline or used directly as a renewable fuel.

MTG: Biomethanol further processed to produce biogasoline which is functionally equivalent to fossil-derived gasoline meeting EN228.


HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil): A paraffinic diesel very similar to fossil diesel but made by the hydrotreatment of vegetable oils or other lipids, which have to meet the requirements of EN15940, the standard for fossil-free paraffinic diesels for use in road vehicles. They also have the benefit of being sulphur-free. Can be blended with FAME to create a renewable diesel that meets EN590, the standard for pump diesel available on the forecourt.


Used to make pure biodiesel by esterification of vegetable oils, typically meeting the requirements of EN14214, the standard for fossil-free fuel made from methyl esters. Also known as FAME or biodiesel, it is not a direct replacement for fossil diesel (lower energy density) but is currently blended in pump diesel at up to 7% (B7).

Can be blended with HVO to create a renewable diesel that meets EN590.

How do biofuels compare to other renewable energy sources like solar and wind?

Unlike solar or wind, biofuels provide stored energy that can be used in existing transportation and industrial systems. They complement other renewables but have distinct applications and challenges.

Are biofuels good for climate change?

Biofuels can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease dependence on fossil fuels, and lead to fewer pollutants being released into the atmosphere.

How do biofuels impact agricultural practices and rural communities?

Biofuel production can provide farmers with additional revenue streams, promote sustainable farming practices, and revitalize rural communities with increased employment opportunities.

Does using biofuels impact my vehicle’s fuel efficiency?

Ethanol has a lower energy content than petrol, so using high ethanol blends might result in a slight reduction in miles per gallon. Biodiesel’s impact on fuel efficiency is generally minimal but can vary based on blend and vehicle type.

How does the cost of biofuels compare to traditional fossil fuels?

The cost of biofuels can vary based on production methods, regional factors, and market dynamics. As technology improves, the price of biofuels is expected to become more competitive with fossil fuels.

Are biofuels economically sustainable?

The economic sustainability of biofuels varies by region, feedstock prices, production costs, and government incentives. As technology advances and economies of scale kick in, biofuels could become more economically competitive.

What is biodiesel?

Biodiesel is a specific type of biofuel made from the esterification of vegetable oils or animal fats. It’s primarily used as an alternative to diesel fuel in vehicles.

Are all biofuels biodiesel?

No, biodiesel is just one type of biofuel. While biodiesel is made specifically from oils and fats, biofuels can be produced from a broad range of biomass sources, including corn, sugarcane, and even algae.

Which countries lead in global biofuel production?

As of the last update, the United States and Brazil are the two largest biofuel producers, primarily focusing on ethanol. The European Union, led by countries like Germany and France, also plays a significant role, especially in biodiesel production.

Are biofuels compatible with existing engines?

Many biofuels, especially in blended forms, can be used in existing engines without any modification. However, high concentrations might require engine adjustments.

Can biofuels help in achieving energy security?

Yes, biofuels can reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, diversifying energy sources and potentially stabilizing energy prices.

Are all biofuels sustainable?

Not necessarily. The sustainability of biofuels depends on their source, production method, and the impact on food supply and land use.

How do biofuels differ from crude oil?

Biofuels are derived from living organisms like plants already in our atmosphere, while crude oil is a fossil fuel extracted from the earth. The process of extracting and burning fossil fuels then introduces new carbon into the atmosphere that had previously been locked away for millions of years.

When were biofuels first used?

The history of biofuels dates back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations used biofuels like animal fats for lighting. However, the modern usage of biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, began in the 20th century.

Are biofuels a bridge to more advanced renewable energy solutions?

While biofuels are an essential part of the current renewable energy portfolio, they also pave the way for further advancements, setting the stage for newer, even more sustainable energy solutions in the future.

How will biofuels fit into the UK’s broader push for electric vehicles (EVs)?

While EVs are a focus for personal transport, biofuels remain relevant for sectors where electrification is challenging, such as aviation, heavy goods vehicles, and maritime. They also provide a solution for now that we can take advantage of to make an immediate environmental impact.

How is the UK ensuring the sustainability of biofuels?

The UK emphasizes sourcing biofuels that don’t adversely affect food production or lead to deforestation. There’s also a push towards advanced biofuels derived from waste or non-food sources, also known as second generation biofuels.

What is the difference between the different generation of biofuels?

• 1st generation: use crops as source of biomass
• 2nd generation: use waste as source of biomass
• 3rd generation: use microorganisms as source of biomass

What is the difference between first-generation and second-generation biofuels?

First-generation biofuels are made from food crops, whereas second-generation biofuels are produced from non-food sources like agricultural residues or dedicated energy crops.

The SUSTAIN Classic fuel range uses second-generation biofuels derived from non-consumable food waste.

How can I determine if the biofuels I use are sustainably produced?

Look for certifications or standards on biofuel products, and research suppliers committed to sustainable sourcing and production.