Biofuels are fuels that are made from plants as opposed to fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas. Made from wheat, corn, soy beans and sugar cane they are known as "energy crops". The world is concerned about the consumption of fuel plus the fact that it may eventually run out leaving us in a state of emergency. So what are the pros and cons to this discussion?
Biofuels burn much cleaner than fossil fuels, they release fewer greenhouse gases along with fewer pollutants. This can only be a good thing. Politicians worldwide have supported the thought of Biofuels for years now as a clean alternative to fossil fuels plus they will decrease the fear of running out of the regular fuels that we as consumers rely on for just about everything we do.
Biofuels certainly will not run out which is a positive but there are some minuses that have to be taken into account. Many energy crops take up the space of food crops and in some cases compete vigorously for land to grow them on. This in turn causes the price of food to rocket so although we may have enough fuel we will pay in other ways as we all have to eat. Deforestation is also an issue along with the cost involved in converting vehicles so they can run on Biofuels or the refitting of power plants which will be a very costly exercise.
There are two types of Biofuel, Bioalcohol and Biodiesel. Converting corn into biofuel is costly plus it uses a huge amount of fossil fuel in the process which is a contradiction in itself. Rapeseed oil is another major biofuel. Biodiesel that is made from Rapeseed oil generally doesn't perform well in colder climates which is no good. The fat freezes which makes the car engine seize up. Rapeseed however produces a lot less carbon monoxide when used as a fuel plus is great for heavy plant machinery.
The Most Popular Biofuel Crops are as follows,
Corn, which is by far the most popular to date.
Rapeseed, good for large vehicles, produces less carbon monoxide.
Sugarcane, Brazil made this into Ethanol where most vehicles are now made with dual options of Gasoline or Ethanol.
Palm Oil, pluses - diesel engines don't require alteration to use it, releases less carbon dioxide, aids Indonesian and Malaysian plantation owners, Minuses - The rain forest is being destroyed at a phenomenal rate to make way for palm trees, this puts plants and animals native to the forest at risk and damages the environment.
Jatropha, grows very fast, needs little water, made from 40% oil, helps the Indian economy as they produce the most, the by product can be used to fuel factories.
Soybeans, produces most biodeisel in USA, require less fertilization, releases very little pollutants.
Cottonseed, can be easily transformed into biofuel.
Sunflowers, one acre of sunflowers produces 600 pounds of biofuel. The waste can fuel factories, farmers plant flowers to turn into fuel to run their farms.
Wheat, popular mainly in Europe, Britain opened its first Ethanol plant (using wheat) in 2010, concerns using wheat for fuel instead of for food will push food prices up.
Switchgrass, creating fuel from this uses much less fossil fuels than using corn, has more energy than corn, needs planting once only, can grow practically anywhere.
Food Crops or Biofuel Crops?
On the face of it you may think that producing biofuels is a total win situation, so what is the world waiting for? In some respects this is so but in others it is not so clear cut. Crops for fuel can be grown on home soil, biofuel works mostly in vehicles without modification plus the harmful emissions are so much less than with fossil fuels. It ticks all the boxes in terms of environmental issues, energy production and security. So why has this not been adopted more urgently?
One main concern is that the production of crops to make biofuel will mean less food crops are produced. Obviously corn and other crops need plenty of land to grow on so if we are taking up the land to grow bio crops where will we grow our food. This is specifically a concern in poorer countries that have problems with food production. The result could be that while richer countries can produce both crops, poorer nations may end up using land they need for food crops.
The good points of biofuel tend to pale when we think of the worlds hungry so the answer to the question is not a simple one. Analysts fear that a hike in food costs is in some ways inevitable if biofuel demand soars. For instance pig farmers feed their stock on corn. If corn becomes in more demand then prices will rise as farmers pass on the costs to the consumer. This is just one example of many scenarios that could result.
One answer of course is to plant extra corn so that food use corn is not being taken to make biofuel. The US has adopted this attitude but will it spread to other nations? With the destruction of the rain forests already being a worry, when it comes to biofuel it is only making the destruction more widespread.
The answer simply is this, some countries will have no problem producing biofuel without endangering the environment or endangering food supplies and so on. Other countries simply will not be able to follow suit, so it is horses for courses as they say. Some countries with financial problems may be tempted to put biofuel production, as it makes money, before necessary food production which would be a tragedy for its population. It looks like the jury is out regarding this subject. Lets just hope that sensible governing prevails and we don't end up with even higher numbers of starving people worldwide due to the enticement of money making in the production of biofuels.
More Information on Biofuel can be found at Biofuel.Org