Monday, July 24, 2017

Guest Post: Why Isn't Everyone Using More Biofuels?

["Biofuels." It's a raging issue in D.C. Should what some call the "corn mandate" be repealed -- or expanded?  Both Big Oil and Big Corn have deployed Big Lobbyists to duke it out. And major conservation groups such as the National Wildlife Federation have raised big concerns about corn-based ethanol.  NWF celebrates in one skirmish against more corn ethanol.
Guest blogger Emily Folk takes a big-picture look at this controversial issue.]

Why Isn't Everyone Using Biofuels? 
Like many people, you’ve probably heard scientists proclaiming their warning for years: Since fuels like coal and crude oil aren’t renewable resources, our supply will eventually run out. As the amount available becomes increasingly scarce, the cost will go up, too. Nonrenewable fuels also create harmful substances when burned. Because of these obvious problems, some people have suggested biofuels are the way of the future. Is that really the case, though?
What Are Biofuels?
Almost any type of organic matter can be a fuel. Biofuels are made up of waste products and crops. Theoretically, that means if we start to run low, farmers will just need to grow more of the necessary components. Using that logic, biofuels sound great because we could produce the ingredients for them on home soil. This would reduce and eventually eliminate dependence on nonrenewable resources that originate from regions of unrest, like the Middle East. 
Two of the most well-known biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel, and both are usually put into cars or trucks. Even though most experts agree biodiesels have notable advantages, there are also numerous downsides.
They Don’t Always Result in Lower Emissions
Biofuels are grouped into three types. First-generation biofuels are made from foods humans eat, such as corn, wheat and vegetable oil. Conversely, second-generation biofuels come from things that aren’t fit for consumption, such as agriculture waste. Finally, third-generation biofuels are sourced from algae. 
A worrisome report published by the Royal Academy of Engineers contained more than 250 evaluations of biofuels produced worldwide. It found that some first-generation biofuels created more emissions than the fossil fuels they replaced and that algae-based fuels have a long way to go before they live up to expectations. On a positive note, some sources of biofuel, such as corncobs, have a nearly zero-emission status.
Biofuels Require Suitable Land for Growing
Some supporters of biofuels who haven’t done adequate research think it’s possible to grow crops for biofuels almost anywhere. The truth is, growing materials to make biofuels requires lots of fertile land. Finding enough land to grow the crops is one challenge, but it’s also important to realize that when land gets cleared in preparation for planting crops, that activity causes rising emissions too. That is especially true in places like the Amazon rainforest and Southeastern Asia.
Biofuels Must Be Chosen Intelligently
The U.S. Navy attracted attention from the press when it set a goal of getting half its energy from non-petroleum sources by 2020 and has been depending on biofuels to meet it. However, although the Navy was using an algae-based biofuel blend in 2012, it now relies on a first-generation, Italian-made substance that contains a much lower percentage of biofuel and is very expensive.
Perhaps one of the reasons why some people and organizations delay adopting biofuels is because choosing any variety does not necessarily translate into something good for the planet. Before getting serious about choosing among the various types of biofuels available, individuals and companies must do substantial research to determine the overall impacts of certain fuels versus others — and that’s an extra step some may not be willing to take.

[Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger, covering topics in conservation, sustainability and renewable energy. To see her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter!]

No comments: