The good bad and the ugly about Biofuels

The good, bad and the ugly about Biofuels

Biofuels are an important issue in our society today. Our dependence on foreign oil and the current destruction of the environment has led many of the world leaders to look at other sources for our daily energy uses. This is where biofuels come in. So what is Biofuel? “Biofuel can be broadly defined as solid, liquid, or gas fuel consisting of, or derived from recently dead biological material, most commonly plants. This distinguishes it from fossil fuel, which is derived from long dead biological material.”(wikipedia/Biofuels) So how is this better than what we put in our cars today? Biofuels are renewable source of energy, where what we put in use can be recycled in a biological chain and be used again. Also there is not as much carbon dioxide put in the air as it is with fossil fuels. Biofuels is the way of the future. To protect our world and the world of our kids we need to cut our dependence on fossil fuels, but as much as there are advantages to this new way of life, there are disadvantages as well, and we as inhabitants of earth need to educate our selves to protect our green planet.

The idea of using different sources of energy to power our cars has been around for longer then cars themselves. “Henry Ford originally designed the Ford Model T, a car produced from 1903 to 1926, to run completely on hemp derived biofuel” (National Geographic, Green Dreams). Most of the early cars were run on fuel that the inventors found lying around their workshop such as peanut oil, vegetable oil, hemp and ethanol. This was the way to utilize the technology until mass amounts of fossil fuels were found in many places on earth. This made petroleum based fuel relatively cheap and was soon given the official stamp to be used in many of the cars we see today. Since the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859, we have always depended on it as our forefront energy source (environmentaliteracy.org). However the rising environmental and economical issues for fuels have once again fueled our interest in “tree energy.”

This concern has led world leaders to enforce laws to start using alternate fuels in our lives mandated by government. “In China, the government is making E10 blends mandatory in five provinces that account for 16% of the nation’s passenger cars. In Southeast Asia Thailand has mandated an ambitious 10% ethanol mix in gasoline starting in 2007. In Canada, the government aims for 45% of the country’s gasoline consumption to contain 10% ethanol by 2010. In India, a bioethanol program calls for E5 blends throughout most of the country targeting to raise this requirement to E10 and then E20. The European Union in its biofuels directive has set the goal that for 2010 that each member state should achieve at least 5.75% biofuel usage of all used traffic fuel. In United Kingdom the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation is the requirement that by 2010 5% of all road vehicle fuel is renewable. In the United States, a senior member of the House energy and Commerce Congressman Fred Upton has introduced legislation to use at least E10 fuel by 2012 in all cars in the USA. General Motors is starting a project to produce E85 fuel from cellulose ethanol for a projected cost of $1 a gallon. GM has over 4 million E85 cars on on the road now, and by 2012 half of the production cars for the U.S. will be capable of running on E85 fuel.” (Wikipedia.org/biofuels) “It is mandated that all diesel engine contain two percent biodiesel by 2008 and five percent biodiesel by 2013. It has also required that the auto industry produce engines that can use biofuels and has developed wide-ranging industrial and land-use strategies to promote them”. (Foreignaffairs.org)

Until current day and age we have come up with many types of alternate fuels, some more popular then others. There are three generations of fuels known as of yet with biofuels. Scientists first attempt in alternative energy was using items that were already in “oil” form, one being vegetable oil. Vegetable oil can be utilized in older diesel engines but is usually recommended in hotter climates. The issue with vegetable oil, besides the political problems raised recently, is that the oil needs to be filtered numerously before it can be used and a bad batch can destroy your engine. With a start in vegetable oil, biodiesel made its way into the main stream. Although this is a first generation fuel, biodiesel is looked upon as the leader in alternative fuels in our current day and age. Biodiesel is manufactured with vegetable oil and then blended with conventional diesel, which makes it able to be executed in all diesel cars made today. Although the manufacturers prohibit using biodiesel in cars there isn’t significant evidence that shows damaging effects on conventional diesel engines. In first generation fuels there is only one gasoline alternative, which is biobutanol. Biobutanol can be invoked directly into our gasoline cars, and it is less corrosive than gasoline. Also biobutanol can be distributed with most of our current infrastructures. Most of the other generations of fuels are still patent pending and not in actual use. The second-generation fuels include Biohydrogen, biomethanol and mixed alcohols. Only a single company has been able to use biohydrogen in their cars. BMW has invented a hydrogen run 7-series that gives up to 180 mpg. This is a major discovery in the fight to rid our addiction to oil. The third-generation of fuels is derived from algae, the same source we get our current gasoline from (indirectly).

From what we see, the future of biofuels looks great, but what we don’t see is what worries a lot of researchers in that field. The amount of cars that are suppose to run on E85 as their primary fuel, far surpasses how much E85 a company can produce. If all the algae fuel replaces the petroleum fuel in the United States, we would need 15,000 square miles of cultivation. That is bigger than the size of Maryland. The major problem with 2nd generation fuel is, “even if all the 300 million acres of currently harvested U.S. cropland produced ethanol, it wouldn’t supply all of the gasoline and diesel fuel we now burn for transport, and it would supply only about half of the needs for the year 2025. And the effects on land and agriculture would be devastating.” (Washington post July 2nd) Also certain research has shown that the energy level of certain 2nd generation biofuels is so low that it negates a negative energy output. Which means it takes more energy to make ethanol then it actually gives out from burning the product. Also since biodiesel has been using vegetable oil as a major ingredient it has raised the price on some crops. “In March 2007, corn gutures rose to over $4.38 a bushel, the highest level in then years. Wheat and rice prices have also surged to decade highs, because even as those grains are increasingly being used as substitutes for corn, farmers are planting more acres with and fewer acres with other crops…Soy beans and especially corn are row crops that contribute to soil erosion and water pollution and require large amounts of fertilizer, pesticide, and fuel to grow, harvest, and dry. They are the major cause of nitrogen runoff.” (foreignaffairs.org)

With any new technology there are nicks and kinks that need to be worked out, and even though it takes professionals a long time to figure out how to fix these biofuels the way we can utilize them to maximum advantage, we should all strive to find the path to cutting our carbon footprints. “Limiting U.S. dependence on fossil fuels requires a comprehensive energy-conservation program. Rather than promoting more mandates, tax breaks, and subsidies for biofuels, the U.S. government should make a major commitment to substantially increasing, energy efficiency in vehicles, homes, and factories; promoting alternative sources of energy, such as solar and wind power; and investing in research to improve agricultural productivity and raise the efficiency of fuels derived from cellulose.

In March, the U.S. Energy Department announced that it would invest up to $385 million in six biorefineries designed to convert cellulose into ethanol. That is a promising step in the right direction.” (Foreign affairs.org) With lots of support from government and our communities we can help our green planet stay green, and should be the goal for all those who inhibit it.

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