The search for alternative energy has been a major issue over past 30 years. In recent months there has been an increased amount of urgency concerning reliance upon fossil fuels. The purpose of this discussion is to examine biofuel as a source of alternative energy. The research will focus on determining the impact that biofuel may have on the current energy crisis. Let us begin this discussion by defining the term biofuel.
The term biofuel has become a familiar one within the context of the global Lexicon. According to an article entitled Biofuels:
biofuels are produced from living organisms or from metabolic by- products (organic or food waste products). In order to be considered a biofuel the fuel must contain over 80% renewable materials. It is originally derived from the photosynthesis process and can therefore often be referred to as a solar energy source (Biofuels).”
As stated in the definition of biofuels they are derived from organic or food waste products. Popular types of biofuels include ethanol, soybean diesel. Ethanol is among the most popular because it is relatively easy to produce. Ethanol is produced from any plant that contains sugar or starch. These crops include corn, wheat, and sugar-beet. Two of the most popular crops used to produced ethanol are corn and sugar cane. According to an article entitled “Ethanol: Myths and Realities” the fuel can pbe produced through a fairly simple process. The article explains that when ethanol is derived from corn it is grounds into a powder and mixed with water. The solution is then mixed with water. The process then entails adding an enzyme which is needed to convert the mixture into sugar. Once it is converted yeast is added so that the fermentation process can take place. The liquid that is derived from this process consist of 10% alcohol. Once the liquid has been created the liquid is distilled so that the alcohol can be removed from the mixture prior to water in the mixture is also removed. Once distillation takes place all that is present is pure alcohol and the alcohol is then added to the solution so that it can not be consumed orally.
Globally Brazil leads the world in the production of ethanol biofuels. The biofuel industry in Brazil is utilizes sugar cane to produce biofuel. Although Brazil produces the most biofuel, the United States actually has the largest market for biofuels. As a result of the success realized by Brazil, the United States and other nations around the world have shown a great interest in ethanol.
Another popular type of biofuel is biodiesel. Biodiesel is derived from vegetable oils and animal fats. According to an article entitled “The food v. fuel debate: A nuanced view of incentive structure” Nations such as Thailand, Uruguay and Ghana could potentially take the lead in biodiesel production in the estimated $51 billion-industry, approximately displacing 4-5% of the current globalpetroleum-diesel consumption (950).” Another article entitled “Biodiesel Performance, Costs, and Use” explains
The most common method of producing biodiesel is to react animal fat or vegetable oil with methanol in the presence of sodium hydroxide (a base, known as lye or caustic soda). This reaction is a base-catalyzed transesterification that produces methyl esters and glycerine.23 If ethanol is substituted for methanol, ethyl esters and glycerine are produced. Methanol is preferred, because it is less expensive than ethanol (Radich).
Biodiesel has become increasingly more popular in recent years as gas prices have sored. The use of biodiesel has been limited because biodiesel only works with diesel engines and most people do not have diesel engines. The popularity of biodiesel has been present because the oil used by restaurants can be used as biodiesel. In many parts of the world this biodiesel is available for free or for an extremely small fee.
Advantages of Biofuels
Those that advocate the use of Biofuels do so because they believe that there are certain advantages associated with the use of biofuels. The advantages associated with the use of biofuels include the fact that they are a renewable resource, it can be domestically produced, and cleaner fuel emissions (Ethanol: Myths and Realities). The fact that ethanol is a renewable resource is definitely an advantage. One of the reasons that it is at the forefront of the debate concerning alternative forms of energy is the renewable nature of this type of fuel. Having a renewable resource for fuel is important because it could greatly reduce dependence on foreign oil. According to an article entitled “Ethanol Car Highs: An Endlessly Renewable Resource”
Biofuels…are renewable. In fields where corn or other grains (such as wheat or barley) are raised to be used as “feedstocks” to manufacture ethanol, new crops soon will grow. An acre of corn can yield up to 300 gallons of ethanol per growing season, and with care that land can be productive for decades. Ethanol is domestically produced, thus reducing dependence on fossil fuels from foreign sources in volatile parts of the world (“Ethanol Car Highs: An Endlessly Renewable Resource”).”
The primary reason that having access to a renewable source of fuel is important is cost. As Americans and others across the world discovered over the summer and throughout most of the fall, the price a crude oil can fluctuate greatly over a short period of time. Just weeks ago many people in the United States were paying more than $4 a gallon for gas but in recent weeks prices have dropped dramatically and many Americans are paying less than $1.70 per gallon. These fluctuations take place because of simple supply and demand economics. That is, because crude oil is a nonrenewable resource the supply is limited. So then in the arena of the global market when demand is high for gasoline, the price of crude oil can increase dramatically in a short period of time. However when demand is lowered the price of crude oil can also decrease dramatically. To some extent the prices for crude oil in the future and be predicted but it is not a guarantee. When the price of crude oil increases dramatically over a short period of time and remain high for long periods of time, the economic results can be devastating. As such having renewable sources of energy is critical.
Having access to a renewable resource for fuel is also important because it guarantees that the likely hood of having a fuel shortage is minimized. A fuel shortage would be devastating to the world economies. Without fuel the delivery of goods and services would be greatly reduced and in some cases stopped altogether. People would not be able to get back and forth from work, food and medicines would not be delivered and prices for everything would increase drastically.
Another advantage of biofuel is domestic production. Domestic production of fuel is important for several reasons: it reduces reliance on foreign supplies, it reduces costs and it creates new jobs. Reducing reliance on foreign oil is important because many of the countries that supply the western world with oil do not like the philosophies of western governments. As such our dependence on foreign oil makes us more vulnerable to their dictates because they have a resource that is so critical to out r economy and our way of life that chaos would erupt if it were suddenly unavailable.
The last and often cited advantage of Biofuel is cleaner fuel emissions. The current condition of the environment is a major concern as it pertains to forms of alternative energy. According to an article published by the United States Department of energy “Biofuels burn cleaner than gasoline, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and are fully biodegradable, unlike some fuel additives (“Biofuels & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Myths vs. Facts).” The department of energy also explains that a type of ethanol known as cellulosic ethanol could possibly decrease greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 86% (“Biofuels & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Myths vs. Facts).
In addition, ethanol is biodegradable and can do so without harming the environment (“Biofuels & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Myths vs. Facts). It also acts as a safe replacement for the additive MTBE. However, the energy department also explains that the use of ethanol can increase emissions of certain pollutants (“Biofuels & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Myths vs. Facts). This pollution occurs because the fossil energy is required as part of the farming process of biomass crops and during the biofuel production process. However it is possible to reduce the prevalence of these admissions by reduced by utilizing forms of renewable power and improving farming methods (“Biofuels & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Myths vs. Facts”).
There are obviously some serious advantages that are worth considering as it pertains to the use of biofuel. These advantages seem to be critical in that they will be beneficial to individual countries and the world over the long run. It is quite possible that biofuels could be instrumental in stabilizing the price of fuel. In addition, the utilization of biofuels
Disadvantages of Biofuels
Although there are many advantages associated with biofuels, there are also some disadvantages associated with the use of biofuels. One of the most controversial aspect of biofuel is the debate over food vs. fuel. One of the main problems of problems with the production of ethanol in particular is that the crops are destroyed in the process and as such they cannot be consumed by human being or livestock.
An article published in the journal Renewable Energy argues explains that some experts in the field of alternative energy have called for proactive and simultaneously cautious approach to large-scale biofuel cultivation and a rigorous debate on the desirability of biofuels as a major energy source. Ceteris paribus, “to be a viable alternative, a biofuel should provide a net energy gain, have environmental benefits, be economically competitive, and be producible in large quantities without reducing food supplies” (Srinivasan, 951).
The problem of biofuel decreasing the food supply is not just an imagined one, in some areas biofuels are considered to be unsustainable. For instance in certain areas of Indonesia is unsustainable because of the impact it has on peat lands and the rain forest. This is also true in South America where the cultivation of soybeans has greatly diminished the biodiversity once present in the Amazon. However, experts also concede that the impact of the production of biofuels on the food supply is dependent upon cultivation practices (Blanco & Azqueta).
The article further state biofuels will not be able to serve a replacement for crude oil without having a negative impact on food supplies. The author explains that “dedicating all U.S. corn and soybean production to biofuels would meet only 12% of gasoline demand and 6% of diesel demand, and would aggravate the uncertainty of supplies, compared to imported oil (Srinivasan, 951).”
In addition on a Globally scale corn, wheat, sorghum, rice, sugarcane, cassava and sugarbeet, compose 42% of the cropland, and using the entire supply of these crops to produce biofuels would only satisfy sbout half of the global gasoline consumption (Srinivasan). In addition, some environmentalist have argued that clearing land for the purposes of producing crops for biofuels and the resulting loss of grasslands, forests, peat and lands would actually contribute to environmental crisis.
In addition to the problems associated with the cultivation of the crops needed for biofuel, there are also other disadvantages associated with biofuels. Cost is also more significant as it pertains to the production of certain biofuels such as biodiesel. An article published by the United States Department of Energy asserts that forms of biodiesel including soybean oil and yellow grease still cost more to produce than petroleum. The following table (Radich) contains the exact cost differences.
It is obvious form this chart that both soybean oil and yellow grease are more expensive to produce than petroleum. This is a major disadvantage associated with the use of biofuels associated with biofuels. At the current time there seems to be no viable way to lower the cost of producing biofuels.
Overall it is apparent that biofuels do not serve as a silver bullet as it pertains to relieving the western world from reliance on foreign oil. Although it appears that biofuel has the advantage of reducing gas emissions, it is also true that the cultivation and production techniques used to create biofuel can also have a negative impact on the environment. In addition, biodiesel costs more to produce than petroleum.
The purpose of this discussion was to examine biofuel as a source of alternative energy. The research focused on determining the impact that biofuel may have on the current energy crisis. The research suggest that there are many advantages associated with biofuels. These advantages include renewable resource, domestic supply and lower emissions. These advantages make biofuels an attractive prospect for addressing the energy crisis. However there are also disadvantages associated with the use of biofuels. These disadvantages include production costs and the impact that cultivation has on the environment. It is obvious that the utilization of biofuels in the energy crisis will continue to be an issue for years to come.
Biofuels. 29 November 2008. http://www.alternative-energynews.info/technology/biofuels/
Biofuels & Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Myths vs. Facts.” U.S. Department of Energy. 29 November 2008. http://www.energy.gov/media/BiofuelsMythVFact.pdf
Blanco Maria Isabel, Azqueta Diego. Can the environmental benefits of biomass support agriculture? – the case of cereals for electricity and bioethanol production in northern Spain. Energy Policy 2008;36:357-66.
Ethanol Car Highs: An Endlessly Renewable Resource. 29 November 2008. http://www.kbb.com/kbb/green-cars/articles.aspx?BlogPostId=330
Ethanol: Myths and Realities. 29 November 2008. http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/may2006/tc20060519_225336.htm
Radich, Anthony, Biodiesel Performance, Costs, and Use. United States Department of Energy. 29 November 2008. http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/analysispaper/biodiesel/index.html
Srinivasan, Sunderasan. “The food v. fuel debate: A nuanced view of incentive structures.” Renewable Energy 34 (2009) 950-954
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