The advantages and disadvantages of using biofuels

Here is some interesting info about the advantages and disadvantages of biofuels.

Biofuels are liquids that derive from biomass, mostly from plant materials. The most popular forms of biofuels are biodiesel and bioethanol. Many people see biofuels as the perfect replacement for fossil fuels, as they are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels are. Biofuels have been recently gaining on popularity in many parts of the world. There are three generation of biofuels: first generation biofuels (made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, or animal fats), second generation biofuels (made from non-food crops), and third generation biofuels (made from algae).

There are some very important advantages that biofuels have over fossil fuels, and the one that is mostly talked about is that biofuels are renewable energy source that is much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels are because biofuels significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels. Some even say that biofuels are carbon neutral but this is not the case because large amount of energy is required to grow the crops and convert them into fuel, so this definitely somewhat reduces overall positive environmental impact. However they are still far more environmentally friendly compared to conventional fossil fuels. Second generation of biofuels is significantly more environmentally friendly than the first one, some studies have shown that first generation biofuels can save up to 60% of carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels, while second generation biofuels has this number climbing to 80%.

Another advantage of biofuels is security of supply. Constant high demand in oil has raised the oil prices, and also caused certain supply problems. Biofuels ensure constant supply since they can be grown and produced domestically, without the need for import. Biofuels production can also be very advantageous to many countries dependent on refined oil products as a means of reducing rising oil import bills, especially for developing countries. It also have to be said that biofuels have the potential to solve energy problems in developing countries as most of these countries turn to coal to power their economic growth. Coal is the cheapest but also the dirtiest coal, and domestic production of biofuels in developing countries would mean less pollution from coal power plants, and less impact on climate change.

Disadvantages of biofuels should also be mentioned here. I have already mentioned that biofuels are in general much more environmentally friendly compared to fossil fuels but this does not mean that biofuels cannot cause certain environmental problems. For instance some environmentalists fear that biofuels production will create biodiversity problems because many animals will lose their habitats as more and more land will be used for biofuels production. It could also cause even bigger deforestation problems in some developing countries as without sustainable management forests could be cleared to make way for biofuels production.

First generation biofuels has one serious moral issue, in form of the global food supply. In the world where almost one billion people is hungry the question whether it is the right thing to produce fuel from food certainly raises few ethical issues. If biofuels become lucrative for farmers, they may grow crops strictly for biofuel production meaning there will be less food on the market. Less food means higher prices, rise in inflation, and of course more hungry people worldwide. This is the reason why many people (me included) are against first generation biofuels production because food production must be far more important than fuel production, regardless of high profits.

It also has to be said that massive quantities of water are used for irrigation of biofuel crops, and this could lead to water shortage problem. Also, despite some obvious progress in car industry, most cars are still not properly designed to run on biofuel products.

After examining biofuels advantages and disadvantages you may wonder whether biofuel is the right renewable energy source to be used in years to come. Personally, I’m against first generation bioefuels production because turning food into the fuel while so many people are hungry is definitely not humane. On the other hand second and third generation biofuels definitely deserve more research and faster development because they certainly have lot more advantages than disadvantages, and could provide reliable source of energy in years to come.