August 10, 2010
By: Ethan A. Huff
A recent report issued by the European Union has revealed that biofuels, or fuel made from living, renewable sources, is not really all that beneficial to the environment. Rather than reduce the net carbon footprint as intended, biofuels can produce four times more carbon dioxide pollution than conventional fossil fuels do.
Common biofuels like corn ethanol, which has become a popular additive in gasoline, and soy biodiesel, which is being used in commercial trucks and other diesel-fueled vehicles, are often considered to be environmentally-friendly because they are renewable. But in order to grow enough of these crops to use for both food and fuel, large swaths of land around the world are being converted into crop fields for growing biofuels.
In other words, millions of acres of lush rainforests are becoming corn and soy fields in order to provide enough of these resources for their new uses. The net carbon footprint of growing crops for fuel is far higher than what is emitted from simple fossil fuel usage.
According to the report, American soybeans have an indirect carbon footprint of 340kg of CO2 per gigajoule (GJ), while conventional diesel and gasoline create only 85kg/GJ. Similarly, the European rapeseed, a plant similar to the North American canola, indirectly produces 150kg/GJ because additional land in other nations has been converted to grow rapeseed for food in order to replace the native crops that are now being grown for fuel.
Ironically, the amount of direct and indirect resources used to grow food for fuel is quite high compared to that of conventional fossil fuels. Biofuels also do not burn as efficiently and can be rough on the engines they fuel. Ethanol-enriched gasoline can also reduce gas mileage efficiency by upwards of 25 percent, depending on the vehicle.
Growing food for fuel ends up increasing the price of food for consumers. It also puts additional strain on families, many of whom are already having difficulties making ends meet in current economic conditions.
When all is said and done, biofuels seem to be a whole lot of hype with not a lot of benefit. Environmentally, fiscally and practically, biofuels are a disaster. Fossil fuels may not be an ideal form of clean energy, but at this point in time, they make a lot more sense than biofuels.