Friday, 28 January 2011

Biofuels - Will Biofuels Reduce Our Dependency on Oil?

Biofuels are the combustible fuels produced from animal and plant materials. The simplest form of biofuel is wood which humans have been using for millions of years to provide heat and light, thus creating energy. Most commonly today, biofuels would be in the form of alcohols, esters, and ether. The two most frequently used biofuels are biodiesel and bioethanol.
Biodiesel is made from vegetable oil and grapeseed oil, or it can be converted from used cooking oil and animal fats. If these are not converted to biodiesel, they would simply be seen as waste and end up being incinerated, put into landfills or exported. Biodiesel has both advantages and disadvantages.
Although made from renewable sources and performing as well as normal diesel, it attracts more water therefore hampering performance in colder weather and can only be used by diesel powered engines. Biodiesel produces up to 78% less carbon dioxide (CO2) than normal diesel, but produces more nitrogen oxide emissions. Biodiesel is biodegradable so has less negative effects on the environment but costs more than normal diesel. Biodiesel might compare well to normal diesel where performance is questioned, but reduces fuel economy and very few gas stations actually sell biodiesel.
One can get around this fact though as biodiesel can be combined with normal diesel when one is willing to overlook the fact that biodiesel can be detrimental to the inner fuel tubes of older vehicles. Biodiesel gives off no acid rain-causing sulpher and although it cannot be transported in pipelines, the refineries are more eco-friendly than the petrochemical plants used to produce normal diesel.
Bioethanol can be produced from sugar, starch and carbohydrate crops such as corn and also common vegetation such as grass. In hindsight, it is a pity that Henry Ford's idea of having his Model T run on ethanol did not take off. Who knows what impact that could have had on our current energy concerns.
Bioethanol and ethanol mixtures reduce greenhouse gasses although fuels containing more than 10% ethanol may corrode non-compatible fuel systems. Bioethanol burns very cleanly, producing more heat and therefore more energy, but the production of the raw materials requires massive expanses of land.
Advocates of biofuel are very quick to point out that with the increased demand for oil and escalated oil prices, biofuel will eventually be a much less expensive option than gasoline and other fossil fuel. However, they fail to mention that to produce high quality and refined biofuel which will be able to compete with the efficiency of the already established fossil fuels will remain tremendously expensive until the technology becomes more readily and freely available.
Biofeul can be produced from a variety of animal and plant matter, including crop waste and manure, which is seen by many as a shining example of recycling and reusing. Others however, point out that the situation might arise where there is literally a war between food and fuel. The argument is that if there is an increased demand for biofuels, it might pay farmers world wide to produce crops exclusively for biofuel production in which case food prices would rise and even more regions will be prone to food shortages and starvation. We have already seen a certain amount of this in the United States where many farmers are realizing that they can get paid more for corn crops for biofuel production than they can raising food corn.
Proponents point out that the increased demand for biofuel will result in increased stimulation within the agricultural sectors and therefore will be injecting more income into the already battling industry. Opponents retort with a valid argument that this will deplete other resources such as water and fertile soil, which will result in even more environmental problems and depletion of biodiversities.
In defense of biofuels, they take far less time to generate than fossil fuels which take thousands of years to form. Biofuels are also biodegradable and far less hazardous to use and transport. On the flipside of this coin, the production of biofuels are quite a smelly business due to the nature if the materials and processes. This pungent smell is highly undesirable to communities, which means that to overcome this hurdle, biofuel plants will need to be far removed from populated areas. In turn, this would mean increased carbon emissions produced by the transportation of the biofuel from remote areas into cities and towns.
The production of biofuels can be protected and harnessed internally within countries and regions with the reduced dependency on foreign energy sources. However, the ownership of land has not stopped certain nations from virtually overrunning underdeveloped and vulnerable countries in the search for fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. What is to say that the issue of ownership of fertile, biofuel producing land will not stir up the same agendas plaguing the energy industry today?
Biofuels, when burned, produce noticeably less toxic emissions and carbon output. This will probably be the strongest argument in favor of biofuel as society has begun to awaken to the realization that Earth's capability to recover from continued abuse is limited by our ever increasing greed for more energy. However, there is strong evidence that while cleaner to burn, the actual amount of toxins and carbon emissions released during the production processes of biofuel leaves quite a heavy carbon footprint. If this scenario is paired with the fact that biofuel has to be consumed in greater quantities due to the lower energy levels it is able to produce, then consumers might need to consider which would be the lesser of two evils.
The biofuel industry is still in its early years. Only with continued investment, development and commitment will the advantages of biofuel truly outweigh the disadvantages. With the speed of new technological advances these days, perhaps a truly sustainable, eco-friendly biofuel solution is only a matter of time.
There are many ways to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and other fossil fuels. Discover some of those ways and many other tips for living a green lifestyle. Visit to discover new tips, tactics and strategies for reducing your carbon footprint and lessening your impact on the environment.