Biofuels are liquid fuels from plant materials. They offer the prospect of oil price moderation. But the use of biofuels needs to be sustainable. Responsible development of biofuels will help economic prospects in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
There are many biofuel options which are available. Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are currently produced from the products of conventional food crops such as the starch, sugar and oil feedstocks from crops that include wheat, maize, sugar cane, palm oil and oilseed rape. Any major switch to biofuels from such crops would create a direct competition with their use for food and animal feed, and in some parts of the world we are already seeing the economic consequences of such competition.
Second generation biofuels are now being produced from the cellulose in dedicated energy crops (perennial grasses such as switchgrass and Miscanthus giganteus), forestry materials, the co-products from food production, and domestic vegetable waste. Advances in the conversion processes will improve the sustainability of biofuels, through better efficiencies and reduced environmental impact of producing biofuels, from both existing food crops and from cellulosic sources.
Lord Ron Oxburgh suggests that responsible production of biofuels has several trade-offs:
Produced responsibly they are a sustainable energy source that need not divert any land from growing food nor damage the environment; they can also help solve the problems of the waste generated by Western society; and they can create jobs for the poor where previously were none. Produced irresponsibly, they at best offer no climate benefit and, at worst, have detrimental social and environmental consequences. In other words, biofuels are pretty much like any other product.
According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, sound biofuel production practices would not hamper food and fibre production, nor cause water or environmental problems, and would enhance soil fertility. The selection of land on which to grow the feedstocks is a critical component of the ability of biofuels to deliver sustainable solutions. A key consideration is the minimization of biofuel competition for prime cropland.
Crops like Jatropha, used for biodiesel, can thrive on marginal agricultural land where many trees and crops won't grow, or would produce only slow growth yields.
Sweet sorghum overcomes many of the shortcomings of other biofuel crops. With sweet sorghum, only the stalks are used for biofuel production, while the grain is saved for food or livestock feed. It is not in high demand in the global food market, and thus has little impact on food prices and food security. Sweet sorghum is grown on already-farmed drylands that are low in carbon storage capacity, so concerns about the clearing of rainforest do not apply. Sweet sorghum is easier and cheaper to grow than other biofuel crops in India and does not require irrigation, an important consideration in dry areas.
Biofuels have a limited ability to replace fossil fuels and should not be regarded as a ‘silver bullet’ to deal with transport emissions. Biofuels on their own cannot deliver a sustainable transport system and so must be developed as part of an integrated approach, which promotes other renewable energy options and energy efficiency, as well as moderating the overall demand and need for transport. The development of hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, public transport, and better urban and rural planning all need to be considered.
Source: Wikipedia (All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)
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