April 22, 2012
When biofuels are properly produced they can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost the economy with an alternative energy source, and help preserve habitats that were previously cleared for other energy sources. Ideal biofuels are derived from feedstocks that have lower greenhouse gas emissions than those of fossil fuels, but they need to be produced without compromising the success of agriculture and production. Sustainable agricultural practices cannot only benefit our economy as a whole, but they allow for an efficient production of biofuels. Sustainable biomass feedstock programs include the growing of perennial plants on degraded lands abandoned from agricultural use, using crop residues to enrich the soils, harvesting wood and soils sustainably, mixing crops on agricultural land, and utilizing industrial wastes. Biofuels are the only alternative energy source to have completely the clean air act requirements in relation to the cleanliness of the energy source, therefore it is in our best interest to switch over to biofuels as soon as possible.
Here in California, many are pushing to adopt biofuels as an alternative energy source in order to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Although California is behind on the number of available biodiesel locations, the state is willing to increase the number of sites that offer this renewable source. The California Air and Resources Board has designated millions of dollars to be used for the building of biodiesel stations that will soon cover the state of California. Companies like Ceres Inc. are creating genetically modified crops to be used as biofuels. Although there is some skepticism towards the transition to biofuels, when biofuels are produced correctly and efficiently they offer an alternative that gives off energy while reducing carbon emissions. Multiple companies like Ceres support the use of biofuels in the state of California including companies in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Specifically Amyris Biotechnologies in Emeryville and Cobalt technologies in Mountain view were recognized by “Biofuels Digest” as a couple of the most transformative technologies of 2010.
California as a state produces around 80 million gross tons of biomass each year which creates the potential to have 32 million tons of feedstock for biofuel production. At the rate that California’s agricultural production is going, each annual harvest has the potential to produce about 300 million gallons of ethanol each year. That statistic alone is a huge incentive to switch over to the agricultural based energy source.
California is required to reduce their carbon emissions by 10% by 2020 and biodiesel offers a plausible way for the state to meet the predetermined goal. Studies show that carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 78% from biodiesel compared to petroleum diesel. Biodiesel accounts for a great reduction in carbon emissions because plants capture the carbon dioxide that is released from the burning of biodiesel and later used as fuel. This is a closed system that prevents carbon emissions. Obviously there are negative impacts to using biofuels because a lot of land needs to be used and deforestation for agricultural land can create enough carbon emissions to take away any benefits of biofuels. Another concern is that it takes more energy to produce biofuels than the amount of energy that biofuels offset. However if they are created in a sustainable and efficient way, California will see a drop in their greenhouse gas emissions. Each energy source has both pros and cons, but considering the current state of our planet and global warming, biofuels appear to be a viable option in reducing global and national emissions.
Alanna Waldman and Chantal Morgan are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.