Biofuels, But at What Cost?

Dean Sigler Sustainable Aviation Leave a Comment

Jasmine Green, writing in Care2 (“The future of Biodiesel Fuels“) , explains that all is not as it seems in the quest for clean fuel alternatives. Many of the biofuel plants noted in this blog (see “EQ2 Has a High Fuel IQ”, February 11, 2010) are indeed being grown and are producing oil for fuel, but, as reported in Care2 Causes, at a cost to the overall environment. Citing, she notes that Brazil is seeing ranchers being displaced to make way for the planting of oil-bearing plants, and that ranchers move further into the rain forest and deforest the area to raise cattle. This indirect deforestation contributes, according to Ms. Green, to 41 to 59 percent of all deforestation in the area.

In Malaysia, deforestation for biofuel growth is leading to the loss of habitat for the country’s native fauna. In all cases, there is danger of destruction of bio-diversity, and substitution of fuel crops for food crops, leading to further impoverishment of already an already needy populace.

Camelina and algae are shown as two potentially benign sources of biofuels. Camelina can be alternated with wheat crops, for instance, and such crop rotations have demonstrated a 15-percent increase in wheat production. Camelina has been used to produce a jet fuel that has been used in FA-18s and a blend of jatropha, camelina, and algae-based fuels has been tested by Japan Air Lines.

A beaker of Aurora algae

According to the article, algae may be the most promising new source of fuel.  “Aurora Biofuels, has created an algae species that creates 25% oil content daily. With a 50-acre pond, the company could create 100 gallons of oil a day and offer diesel fuel for around $2/gallon to the public.  Byproducts of the algae production could also be packaged into pet food in order to cut down on waste.”

The need and the promise have enterprises such as ExxonMobil and the Sustainable Oils Company investing in new processes, and the Department of Energy funding new research and development programs.  With this type of backing, and despite issues that confront their fruition, biofuels may very well take their place in the forefront of green transportation.

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