Are biofuels a solution to global warming? Why are they controversial?

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A global “solution” to tackle global warming is complex and requires radical political, social and economical change and commitment.

Biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are therefore a hot topic in the world of science.

Despite that, there is some controversy surrounding biofuel adoption, as discussed later in this post.

Biofuels are produced from plant / food materials (e.g. soybeans / corn). Thanks to technological advancements it is now also possible to produce biofuel from other materials such as wood and gas.

Biofuels are grown fuels (e.g. corn ethanol), that can be used instead of fossil fuels (like petroleum).

Biofuels suck carbon dioxide out of the air as they grow. As they burn, the same carbon dioxide is emitted back out (i.e. plants suck in carbon dioxide, plant materials used for biofuels subsquently emit the carbon dioxide back out).

So why is there controversy surrounding biofuel adoption?

Some research indicates that biofuel crops require excessive amounts of water, fertilizer, and maintenance (i.e. time / costs), indicating that the input required isn’t justified as sustainable.

Despite this, different crops require different approaches in terms of cultivation and care. Others argue that if the correct crops are utilized (e.g. switchgrass), the process can be extremely sustainable.

Therefore traditional, commercial approaches to biofuel crop cultivation have proven to be extremely resource-intensive and unsustainable (e.g. corn-ethanol production).

It could be said that biofuels can be a sustainable alternative to petroleum, but only when they are sustainably produced.

biofuel sustainable option

What are the problems facing biofuels? 5 disadvantages of biofuels

  1. High Cost of Production
    Therefore traditional, commercial approaches to biofuel crop cultivation has proven to be extremely resource-intensive and unsustainable (e.g. corn-ethanol production).

    Others argue that if the correct crops are utilized (e.g. switchgrass), the process can be extremely sustainable.
  2. Fertilizer Usage
    Since some biofuel crops require excessive amounts of fertilizer, the harmful effects (nitrogen and phosphorus) that fertilizer has on the environment is another negative aspect to consider.

    Water pollution occurs as a result of these chemicals.
  3. Water Consumption
    Some biofuel crops also require excessive amounts of water. This is largely due to the irrigation (i.e. the artificial application of water to the soil).

    Local water resources are therefore put under pressure as a result of higher water-supply requirements.
  4. Monoculture
    Monoculture is the practice of growing one crop species in a field at a time, i.e. growing the same crops each after, as opposed to various types of crops.

    Growing the same crop each year may lead to soil nutrient deprivation.
  5. Ecological Damage
    Ecological damage may occur on the land where they grow / had been growing. Natural forests and mini ecosystems are destroyed as a result.

Does biofuel reduce greenhouse gasses?

According to energy.gov, “Biofuels burn cleaner than gasoline, resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and are fully biodegradable, unlike some fuel additives.”

Since biofuels can reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, they can help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Biofuels are carbon neutral since they emit the same carbon dioxide levels out that they emit in.

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