What are Biofuels?
Fuels that have been extracted from plants and crops are known as biofuels. Of these, the most commonly extracted and used one is Bioethanol or simply Ethanol and Biodiesel. It is blended with gasoline and can be used as an alternative fuel for your car. Plant based fuels comes form renewable source, can be grown anywhere and have lower carbon emissions as compared to fossil fuels. Biofuels not only help a struggling economy by providing jobs but also helps in reducing greenhouse gases up to much extent by emitting less pollution.
As prices of crude oil are soaring day by day, most people are switching to biofuels to save money and reduce their dependance on oil. Biofuels are produced from wheat, corn, soyabeans and sugarcane which can be produced again and again on demand, so they are sustainable. Though biofuels have many advantages over their counterparts, but there are some other complicating aspects that we need to look at.
We should increase our development of alternative fuels, taking advantage of renewable resources, like using corn and sugar to produce ethanol or soybeans to produce biodiesel.
– Bobby Jindal
Advantages of Biofuels
1. Cost Benefit: As of now, biofuels cost the same in the market as gasoline does. However, the overall cost benefit of using them is much higher. They are cleaner fuels, which means they produce fewer emissions on burning. Biofuels are adaptable to current engine designs and perform very well in most conditions. This keeps the engine running for longer, requires less maintenance and brings down overall pollution check costs. With the increased demand of biofuels, they have a potential of becoming cheaper in future as well. So, the use of biofuels will be less of a drain on the wallet.
2. Easy To Source: Gasoline is refined from crude oil, which happens to be a non-renewable resource. Although current reservoirs of gas will sustain for many years, they will end sometime in near future. Biofuels are made from many different sources such as manure, waste from crops and plants grown specifically for the fuel.
3. Renewable: Most of the fossil fuels will expire and end up in smoke one day. Since most of the sources like manure, corn, switchgrass, soyabeans, waste from crops and plants are renewable and are not likely to run out any time soon, making the use of biofuels efficient in nature. These crops can be replanted again and again.
4. Reduce Greenhouse Gases: Fossil fuels, when burnt, produce large amount of greenhouse gases i.e. carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap sunlight and cause planet to warm. The burning of coal and oil increases the temperature and causes global warming. To reduce the impact of greenhouse gases, people around the world are using biofuels. Studies suggests that biofuels reduces greenhouse gases up to 65 percent.
5. Economic Security: Not every country has large reserves of crude oil. For them, having to import the oil puts a huge dent in the economy. If more people start shifting towards biofuels, a country can reduce its dependance on fossil fuels. More jobs will be created with a growing biofuel industry, which will keep our economy secure.
6. Reduce Dependance on Foreign Oil: While locally grown crops has reduce the nation’s dependance on fossil fuels, many experts believe that it will take a long time to solve our energy needs. As prices of crude oil is touching sky high, we need some more alternative energy solutions to reduce our dependance on fossil fuels.
7. Lower Levels of Pollution: Since biofuels can be made from renewable resources, they cause less pollution to the planet. However, that is not the only reason why the use of biofuels is being encouraged. They release lower levels of carbon dioxide and other emissions when burnt. Although the production of biofuels creates carbon dioxide as a byproduct, it is frequently used to grow the plants that will be converted into the fuel. This allows it to become something close to a self sustaining system.
Disadvantages of Biofuels
1. High Cost of Production: Even with all the benefits associated with biofuels, they are quite expensive to produce in the current market. As of now, the interest and capital investment being put into biofuel production is fairly low but it can match demand. If the demand increases, then increasing the supply will be a long term operation, which will be quite expensive. Such a disadvantage is still preventing the use of biofuels from becoming more popular.
2. Monoculture: Monoculture refers to practice of producing same crops year after year, rather than producing various crops through a farmer’s fields over time. While, this might be economically attractive for farmers but growing same crop every year may deprive the soil of nutrients that are put back into the soil through crop rotation.
3. Use of Fertilizers: Biofuels are produced from crops and these crops need fertilizers to grow better. The downside of using fertilizers is that they can have harmful effects on surrounding environment and may cause water pollution. Fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus. They can be washed away from soil to nearby lake, river or pond.
4. Shortage of Food: Biofuels are extracted from plants and crops that have high levels of sugar in them. However, most of these crops are also used as food crops. Even though waste material from plants can be used as raw material, the requirement for such food crops will still exist. It will take up agricultural space from other crops, which can create a number of problems. Even if it does not cause an acute shortage of food, it will definitely put pressure on the current growth of crops. One major worry being faced by people is that the growing use of biofuels may just mean a rise in food prices as well.
5. Industrial Pollution: The carbon footprint of biofuels is less than the traditional forms of fuel when burnt. However, the process with which they are produced makes up for that. Production is largely dependent on lots of water and oil. Large scale industries meant for churning out biofuel are known to emit large amounts of emissions and cause small scale water pollution as well. Unless more efficient means of production are put into place, the overall carbon emission does not get a very big dent in it.
6. Water Use: Large quantities of water are required to irrigate the biofuel crops and it may impose strain on local and regional water resources, if not managed wisely. In order to produce corn based ethanol to meet local demand for biofuels, massive quantities of water are used that could put unsustainable pressure on local water resources.
7. Future Rise in Price: Current technology being employed for the production of biofuels is not as efficient as it should be. Scientists are engaged in developing better means by which we can extract this fuel. However, the cost of research and future installation means that the price of biofuels will see a significant spike. As of now, the prices are comparable with gasoline and are still feasible. Constantly rising prices may make the use of biofuels as harsh on the economy as the rising gas prices are doing right now.