Biofuels are thought of today as the advanced, cutting-edge fuels of the future.

The reality, however, is that biofuels are the oldest source of energy known to humankind. Biofuels were the first fuels. After all, wood was the biofuel used by ancient man and primitive societies from the hunter-gatherers’ pre-civilization times.

By definition, a biofuel is that which grows naturally and is renewable. Biofuels are composed of organic matter, meaning wood, peat moss, various vegetable oils, and even whale oil fall under its definition.

As the centuries passed, humans began to use other forms of energy, notably fossil fuels. The longest-used fossil fuel is coal. It may have been burned as early as 3490 B.C. in China. But the ancient Greeks routinely used coal in metalworking and possibly to heat homes, as did the ancient Romans.

But biofuels truly began to take a back seat when oil, natural gas, and coal became the preferred form of fuel to power most of the daily life functions. This was especially the case at the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Factories, machines, and “horseless vehicles” were all engineered around the abundant availability of fossil fuels.

Even so, the first cars were designed to use biofuel. For example, Henry Ford invented the production Model T in 1908 to run on oil derived from hemp. Better methods for pumping crude oil made petroleum-based fuels a far cheaper alternative, however. It wasn’t long before all cars were designed to burn fossil fuels.

The oil crisis of the 1970s brought back the idea of biofuels in a big way. The crisis began in 1973 when the Organization of Arab Oil Exporting Companies launched an oil embargo for complex geopolitical reasons. The price of oil suddenly became highly expensive.

Furthermore, environmental concerns over the burning of fossil fuels had already been emerging for some time. Nations with economies heavily dependent on crude oil began to ramp up research into alternatives. The quest for the perfect biofuels was on.

Ethanol derived from grain products has been a significant biofuel focus since the 1970s. Ethanol remains the most prolific biofuel, but several alternatives are being studied. An example is a biofuel made from algae. The latter is being researched aggressively by ExxonMobile.


John Kaweske of Colorado Springs is a biodiesel fuel and technology expert. As President of Bio Clean Energy, S.A., he draws from 20 years of professional experience to offer valuable insight into the industry. When he isn’t working on clean energy efforts, he’s spending time with his family and practicing daily meditation