Biogas: fuel for the future?

It has been determined that in the next 50 years the fossil fuels that our society so heavily depends upon for heating homes, cooking and electricity production will be depleted. These fossil fuels are natural gas, coal and oil. The idea of this imminent depletion has led to an increased investigation into the use of alternative fuels independent of fossil fuels such as solar or wind power. It has been calculated that biomass could be used to provide roughly half of the world energy needs in a clean and renewable fashion in a variety of different forms.

Biogas is a form of fuel produced by the digestion of biomass usually by microbial means. Biogas is produced in four main stages from complex polymers. The starting material for this digestion can be from a range of sources such as specially grown crops, waste or wood. After digestion the composition of biogas is comprised mainly of methane and carbon dioxide. An array of different bacteria interacting syntrophically are crucial in the process with particular importance placed on the methanogens which control the final conversion into methane. These methane generating microorganisms are from the domain Archaea which can be found in a vast array of environments and may be found naturally in the digestive tracts of humans and ruminants. This means that when biogas is produced using waste material, the mix of microorganisms needed to perform the digestion is already present, producing an efficient biogas system.

Biogas can be produced easily with minimum resources making it a good choice in rural and low income nations where it can provide cheap heating and fuel, however it may also be scaled up to provide a large-scale source of clean fuel.

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