Biofuel Pros and Cons

Biofuel may not be as sustainably as we think.
Image: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr CC

Biofuel certainly has its advocates and naysayers. But why? Its use sets off a number of consequences, good and bad. When we consider whether or not to continue using biofuel in its current form moving forward or take another look at how to decrease carbon emissions will depend largely on the following factors:

  1. Money—As always, a big part of the sustainability puzzle is determined by money and our struggling economy. One big thing biofuel has going against it is that it is expensive to produce. That means motorists end up paying more money at the fuel pump, which is not something people will be excited to do considering the already high price of fuel and sad state of the economy. Plus, biofuels generally have a lower energy content, meaning they burn up faster than normal fuel and need to be replenished more often.
  2. Food Industry—Because biofuel is often produced using edible products like corn or used cooking oil, it has had an adverse effect on food prices. In the UK, for example, the cost of simple vegetable oil skyrocketed because of EU biofuel mandates.
  3. Land—Biofuel made from rapeseed oil or corn has to get its products from somewhere, and that usually means dedicating significant chunks of land to growing food for fuel. That cuts into the amount of land that can be used to grow food for eating, increasing the number of imports necessary simply to feed everyone (which again makes food more expensive). On the other hand, some of those fields might otherwise be left idle if there was not biodiesel fuel to produce. Growing these products on farmland provides more than a few people with a livelihood.
  4. Fuel Independence—Creating biofuel using homegrown products significantly decreases our independence on outside countries, increasing independence as a nation. It also cuts back on the amount of oil being drilled and reduces the amount of carbon emissions.
  5. Imports—The use of certain products to produce biofuel has done both good and bad things for importation. Growing rapeseed for biodiesel dramatically decreases the imports needed to obtain animal feed. In contrast, the rising cost of some domestic products makes other international products more appealing; palm oil imports from Indonesia, for example, became cheaper than domestic cooking oil in the UK last year. Unfortunately, much of that oil is produced on deforested land—which has an adverse effect on carbon admissions.
  6. Toxicity—Perhaps the best benefits of biofuels are that they are far less toxic than fossil fuels, are biodegradable, and do not put nearly as much strain on the earth. Spills or leaks from biofuels are much less of an environmental concern and are much cheaper and faster to amend. The production of biofuels is less dangerous for both us and the earth, and does not present such potential dangers as causing earthquakes from drilling, coal mine collapses or explosions, and oil spills in our oceans and on land.

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