April 22, 2012
The search for an alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels has been well underway for many years now. However, no alternative resource has been able to provide the energy efficiency, comfort, and availability of oil. Nevertheless, the search still continues due to the environmental and economic concerns associated with fossil fuels. One such alternative that has gained much popularity in recent years has been the production of biofuels. This ideal suggests that we derive energy, either indirectly or directly, from organic material including agricultural crops and animal waste. “Biofuels can be solid, gaseous or liquid, even though the term is often used in a narrow sense to refer only to liquid biofuels for transport[ion]” (Liquid Biofuels for Transport Prospects, Risks and Opportunities). Even though this option sounds extremely intriguing, biofuels are just another pipedream because they conflict with food sources, release potent amounts of greenhouse gas, and cost American taxpayers billions of dollars.
The first reason why biofuels should not be considered a feasible energy source in the future is because they raise the price of food. “In 2008, about 33.3 million hectartes were used to produce foodbased biofuels and their coproducts.” Furthermore, biofuel production from food crops is expected to increase 170% in the next decade (Going Hungry: Why Biofuels Are for People, Prosperity, and the Planet). Diverting such a large number of crops for energy purposes increases the demand for land, which as a result increases the price. From 2007-2008, the price of corn rose 50%, wheat 75%, and rice nearly 200%. This was projected to push nearly 100 million people into poverty according to the World Bank (Going Hungry: Why Biofuels Are for People, Prosperity, and the Planet). As the human population increases in the upcoming decades, this number will only increase. The sacrifice of millions of lives is simply not worth the acquisition of a slightly cleaner fuel source.
In addition, biofuels generate the same or even worse greenhouse gas (GHG) issues as conventional fuels do. Unlike renewable energy sources such as hydro, geothermal or solar energy, biofuels emit a large amount of greenhouse gasses during production. According to studies conducted in 2008, the most common biodiesel source, corn ethanol, generates around 50% more GHG than conventional fuels. Although the EPA later reported that this figure may be reduced in the long term, after the land use change no longer contribute to GHG release, corn ethanol can still generate 13% more GHG in 100 years period. For other renewable sources of energy, hydroelectricity, nuclear power and solar power generate almost no direct emissions of GHG and geothermal energy can reduce GHG release by nearly 97%. In comparison, biofuels have a large effect on global warming.
The biofuel industry not only highly depends on government subsidies but also creates an inefficient government spending as well as a heavy burden to taxpayers. Economically speaking, biofuels have no efficiency advantage over conventional fuels. The energy content per gallon of biodiesel is 11% lower than petroleum diesel whereas the ethanol content is increasing the mechanical complexity for vehicle motors. Therefore, biofuels are not competitive in the market and to maintain the price advantage, they demand enormous government funding.
In conclusion, the risks and costs of biofuels make them an unfeasible option at the moment. We need an energy source that is both economically and environmentally beneficial. Presently, biofuels are not and therefore should not be considered as a viable alternative energy source that should be implemented on a large-scale.
Anthony Radich, “Biodiesel Performance, Cost and Use”, Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/analysispaper/biodiesel/.
Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change”, Science.
EPA Lifecycle Analysis of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Renewable Fuels”, US Environmental Protection Agency, http://www.epa.gov/otaq/renewablefuels/420f09024.htm
“Going Hungry: Why Biofuels Are for People, Prosperity, and the Planet.” Le Québécois Libre. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.quebecoislibre.org/08/080515-11.htm>.
“Liquid Biofuels for Transport Prospects, Risks and Opportunities.” Biofuels: 1. What Are Biofuels? Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.greenfacts.org/en/biofuels/l-2/1-definition.htm>.
Hongxi Zhao and Jay Bahayani are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.