Biofuel is any form of fuel, which has been derived from biomass. Most of the biofuels are produced from easily replenished sources of carbon, such as plants. Generally, biofuels are produced from different sources of biomass, such as charcoal, energy crops and wood, waste from forests or agriculture or manure. Currently, bio-energy is being sought after vigorously mainly due to the rising prices of oil in a worldwide scope. The use of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels, significantly affects the environment, as well as the economic status of a country. Replacement of fossil fuels reduces the impacts of fossil fuels in relation to its production and use in various ways, such as, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of resources and dependence on one source of energy. This paper asserts that biofuels are a viable source of energy. They are also more cost-effective than other forms of energy.
The existing forms of available biofuels are derived from starch crops (such as corn and potatoes), sugar crops (mainly sugarcane), and animal fat and oilseed crops (such as sunflower and castor oil). These are used in the production of bio-alcohols, such as, ethanol and biodiesel-which are the most common forms of biofuels in use all over the world. The second generation biofuels are made from cellulose which is found in woody plants and wooden byproducts. As a matter of fact, biofuels from the third generation are made mainly from algae. Notably, the second and the third generation biofuels are not being produced commercially.
Benefits of Biofuels
The production of biofuels is relatively cheaper when compared to the production of fossil fuels. This is in relation to the equipment and availability. The equipment used in the production of biofuels are cheap and are easily accessible all over the world, thus, biofuels can be produced locally. Because of this, the cost of importing fuel from other countries is minimized. According to Gajewski in 2012, advanced biofuel production has reduced petroleum imports to the United States by $5.5 billion (1). This number is expected to increase to $23 billion by 2016 and further to $70 billion by the year 2022. Cumulatively, the production of biofuels between 2010 and 2022 reduces the cost of petroleum importation by approximately $350 billion. The ability to grow the raw material all over the world also makes it relatively cheap to produce biofuels. In contrast, production of fossil fuels is limited to areas where petroleum can be found. Therefore, this leads to the need to import by countries that do not produce oil. Importation of petroleum is expensive, considering the rising prices of oil globally due to the depletion of oil wells.
Argument has been raised over the cost of the implementation of biofuel plants. Some analysts argue that the startup capital of the production of biofuels is extremely costly. Refining biofuels to increase their efficiency is costly just as building of the manufacturing plants and the availability of vast masses of land for the growth of crops. In order to cater for all these, a high preliminary investment is required. However, after the initial investment is done, the operation of the plants is relatively economical, and the returns are immensely profitable for the producing country.
The use of biofuels reduces the dependence of a country on foreign energy, thus, enhancing the energy security of the country. This is mainly due to the availability of the raw materials, which are found in most countries in the world. The exploitation of these natural resources is cheaper than the importation of foreign energy. In addition to that, countries are able to protect and control the reliability of their energy supply by reducing the dependence on other forms of energy. This reduces the country’s vulnerability to supply disruptions. The renewability of the raw material is also effective in the maintenance of a constant supply of energy in a country, thus, leading to the self-dependence of different countries.
Production and use of biofuels also play a crucial role in the stimulation of a country’s economy. The manufacturing plants will provide job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of individuals in a given country, and this helps in the creation of jobs, particularly, in rural areas. This plays a vital role in reducing the rate of unemployment and, thus, raising the standards of living of people in that country. Statistics shows that biofuel production has directly created 29, 000 jobs in 2012. This number is expected to rise to 94,000 in 2016 and up to 190,000 by the year 2022. The number is larger when viewed from the indirect creation of jobs - the number is currently at 123,000 and is expected to rise to 807,000 by 2022 (Hallett 1). It also increases the demand for crops, thus, making it a profitable business for farmers who grow the energy crops. Consequently, rural areas get to develop due to the production of energy, thus, reducing energy poverty, as well as general poverty in a country.
However, scientists from FAO argue that the massive production of biofuels reduces the food security of a country. This is because of more concentration of energy crops, thus, the production of food crops is reduced. This will lead to the increase of prices of various food crops which people under the poverty margin cannot afford (Chivers 1) this presents a challenge to scientists and researchers which can be overcome by the growth of crop breeds that serve both purposes of energy production and food production. Consequently, the supply of food and energy is upheld. Further than that, this challenge can be solved through effective land use management. For example, energy crops can be grown on reclaimed lands, thus, maintaining the food security of the country.
The production of biofuels plays a significant role in the conservation of the environment particularly concerning global warming. Global warming leads to climate change, which has adverse effects on the environment. Global warming is mainly caused by carbon emissions from various activities, such as mining and production of petroleum products. Production of petroleum, as well as the use of its products, has a considerable effect on the environment due to the emission of greenhouse gases (Totty 97). Greenhouse gases increase the global temperatures of the earth, thus, leading to climate change. Production and use of biofuels is known to have positive effects on climate change mainly because the production of greenhouse gases is minimal while using and producing biofuels.
Biofuels are also effective in reducing the air pollution. Compared to petroleum and other fossil fuels, the end products of biofuel combustion have few toxic and are environmentally friendly. Further, the carbon emissions from biofuels can easily be offset by the uptake of carbon by the feedstock. Plants take up carbon dioxide as they grow, and this reduces carbon in the atmosphere. The production and use of fossil fuels extracts fossil fuels from the earth’s crust, exposes it to the atmosphere, and, thus, increases the global warming.
In reality, however, the process of biofuel production is not carbon neutral. This is contrary to the assumption made which is based on the conversion of plants into biofuels (Beinecke 28). The production of biofuels requires the use of energy to convert the crops into fuels. Fuel is necessary in various processes, for example, for transportation of crops or to power the machinery. The amount of fuel used in the various stages of production has a substantial impact on the environment in relation to carbon emission. In some countries, the impact of carbon emissions from biofuels has been noted to be high compared to emissions from other fuels like petroleum. According to studies in Brazil, greenhouse gas emissions increased by ten times ever since the country ventured into biofuel production. However, this can be mitigated using biofuels in the production process instead of using other forms of fuel.
Scientists have also raised concerns on the impacts of biofuel production on the ecosystem. They argue that the production of biofuels on a large scale could eventually lead to the loss of biodiversity. This would come because of the clearing of land, which functions as a habitat for various plant and animal species. The main mitigation measure for this would be to use reclaimed land rather than the clearing of land, which functions as habitat for majorly wild plants and animals.
In summary, the production and use of biofuels have various benefits, which make it a viable source of renewable energy. Compared to other traditional forms of energy, the implementation and production of biofuels are more profitable, in the end, and have minimal effects on the environment. Biofuels production also creates jobs for individuals all over a country, thus, reduces on unemployment. This leads to better standards of living and consequently the development of a country.