Bio-Fuels As Sustainable Technology Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: World, Energy, Biofuels, Food, Development, Environmental Issues, Economics, Environment

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/21

Introduction: Increasing Global Warming

This report discusses and focuses on the problem of climate change, which though is global in nature, is estimated to more severely affect developing countries, especially the tropical and the sub-tropical ones (Stern, 2007). The major contributor to the problem of global warming is the continuous emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. A greenhouse gas is one which prevents the heat to radiate back to space and maintains a warm climate on the Earth. These gases are released into the atmosphere by the use of fossil fuel resources, such as oil, coal, etc. As per the IEA reports (2006), fossil fuels account for about 80% of the total world’s energy supply. With the economic growth in developing countries, the demand of energy is only bound to increase.
The most likely cause of the current trend of global warming is assumed to be human-induced and has been increased unchecked at the same rate in the past 1300 years (NRC, 2006). With the help of satellites orbiting the Earth, the scientists have been able to collect important information about our planet, study of which has clearly revealed the signs of climate change on the global level. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are heat-trapping in nature, increased levels of which have caused the Earth to warm up (Hegerl, 1996).

Below is a graph showing the trend of consumption of fossil fuels across the world over the past 300 years:

The global warming will be a driving influence on the world’s forestry and agriculture. This will have a penetrative effect on the poverty, economic growth and the environment, with its impact highly visible in the developing countries. It has already started to have significant effects on the climate. Some of these prevalent effects are rise of sea levels, coastal flooding, intense heat waves, growing health impacts, increased natural calamities, heavy rains and precipitation, severe droughts, melting ice cover, changing seasons, disruption of food supplies, and increased risk on water and electricity supply. If remain unchecked, its impact will continue to be intensify.

Bio-fuels: A sustainable solution

The laboratories across the world have been working on different technologies, one of which is the development of bio technologies for the efficient production of diesel, biogas, methane, and ethanol. They produce lower amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants on combustion, in comparison to fossil fuels and offer numerous prospects for development. Consumption of bio-fuels will reduce the cost of production and efficiency will be improved dramatically.

Major types of bio-fuels

Biomass is a renewable and inexhaustible source of energy and can be used as either primary or secondary one.
Vegetable oils and alcohols act as the base for liquid fuels. The most prominently used alcohol is ethanol and methanol, which are produced by the fermentation of biomass by the use of enzymes and microorganisms. They can also be produced from wheat, corn or sugar beets. Biodiesel is produced from oil seeds. It is an environment-friendly fuel and is an excellent replacement for liquid fuels used in diesel engines. Bio-ethanol is a wonderful substitute for gasoline (FO Licht’s, 2006).

How to extract energy from biomass

In order to extract energy from biomass, it needs to be refined and processed upon. The equipment and processes used for the purpose are called bio-refinery.

Energy can be produced from bio-refinery by two methods:

Sugar platform: Method based on biochemical processes and reactions. In this process, biomass is converted into sugar, which is further fermented by bacteria, yeasts or other microorganisms. Further chemical reactions of the product produce alcohol or other products from which energy can be produced.

Thermo-chemical platform: This category is further divided into three sub-processes:

Direct Combustion: Producing energy by combustion of fuels was one of the first processes, but the least effective.
Gasification: In this process, the bio fuel is heated in the absence of oxygen to produce liquid fuel. The bio-fuel is mixed with carbon monoxide and hydrogen (called Syngas). The product is synthesized with oxygen and the liquid product is capable of being used in boilers, turbines, etc. as a source of energy.
Pyrolysis: Another method of converting solid bio-mass into liquid fuel is using chemical and catalytic processes. This also calls of heating of biomass in the absence of oxygen, which thermally decomposes it to produce liquid fuels. It changes both the chemical and the physical structure of the fuel and is irreversible.

Quadruple Bottom Line

QBL, or Quadruple Bottom Line provides us with means to measure, assess and value the well-being of a community. It navigates through the important goals without compromising anywhere on the core values. For a QBL analysis, we will analyze the technology of bio-fuels on these four factors: environmental stability, economic prosperity, social equity, and cultural/governmental vitality.

Environmental Sustainability

Replacement of fossil fuels with the fuels produced from biomass is expected to have significant effects in the climate by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases that are a major contributor to the global warming. The use of bioenergy crops can help in directly cutting down the emission. They act as carbon sinks, as they capture the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while growing up and store in biomass and soil. Apart from generating bio-fuels, they also generate side products such as protein for livestock feed, saving on more energy.
Bio-fuels burn cleaner than the fossil fuels. They don’t produce Sulphur while burning, hence avoiding any unpleasant smell while burning. With the use of bio-fuels, the chances of environmental danger are reduced.


Switching to bio-fuels would call for an all-around shift in farming. The consumption of energy in the modern times is at its peak and to meet the demand of bio-crop farming, more land would have to be devoted than available. The best that can be done at the moment is to supplement the current need for energy by the use of bio-fuels.
Moreover, extensive use of chemical fertilizers for the farming of bio-energy crops could create nitrate runoff, which may cause algae to grow and bloom leading to choking of aquatic species. Mining of phosphorous for the bio-farming can prove to be hazardous for the environment, since it tends to leave back radioactive products (NRC, 2011).
Direct and indirect use of land for the farming shift from one crop to another may also trigger the emission of the greenhouse gases.
At its worst, depending on the method of production and the feedstock, biofuels can even emit more greenhouse gases than the fossil fuels.

Economic Prosperity

Since biofuels are renewable and inexhaustible in nature, they are believed to sustain indefinitely. They are also expected to yield lower lifecycle greenhouse gases over a time horizon of 30 years (US EPA, 2010). They have a significant potential to reduce greenhouse emissions, because the feedstock will be produced using only marginal amount of land.
Biofuels can also be produced domestically, leading to lower imports of fossil fuels (Huang et. al., 2013). If our dependency on the production and use of biofuels is able to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, we are expected to become less vulnerable to the impacts of disruptions of fossil fuel supply (US EPA, 2010).
Reduced dependency on fossil fuels will also lead to lowering of their prices, generating further economic benefits (Huang et. al., 2013).


Biofuel feedstock may include crops such as corn, oilseeds, etc., which are originally meant for direct human consumption. Converting them to be used as biofuels will call for more land to be devoted to agriculture. More agriculture demand will lead to more energy inputs and a rise in food prices.
Cellulosic feedstock may compete for natural resources such as land, water and air, which could otherwise be used for food production. This may lead to increased food prices (Melillo et. al., 2009).
Various economic models and studies indicate that the use of biofuels can result in higher food prices, which could in turn lead to higher malnutrition rate, especially in developing countries (Rosegrant et. al., 2008).

Social Equity

One of the major benefits with the bio-farming would be the employment that comes with it (Peters & Thielmann, 2008). The oil palm industries in Malaysia and Indonesia provide high employment rates with smallholder based productions and low-scale based operations (World Bank, 2010).
Under the right conditions and processes, it is expected to yield positive social advantages, such as improved infrastructure, increase in land prices, and higher income from smallholder cultivations (World Bank, 2010).


The increased use of biofuels can have a direct impact on the food security. Increased food prices have the tendency to undermine the access of food by the poor, and can directly impact the domestic food security and national level food self-sufficiency (FAO, 2008).
Increased use of land for bio-farming will reduce the amount of land available for other purposes, and will lead to illegal land seizures. Absence of clearly defined land rights and benefit sharing agreements can lead to major land conflicts, which can prove to be disadvantageous to the poor and under-privileged.

Governmental Vitality

The replacement of fossil fuels with bio fuels has been a rapidly increasing market demand and a major part of government policies. Biofuel governance is a complicated process, which needs to focus on different issues of all aspects. It is an industry touching on various points such as climate change, deforestation, food security, and labor standards. Ineffective governance can result in negative outcomes in all these areas and more.


The policies need to make sure that they emphasize on the best possible use of the existing resources. Good governance can take away government’s worries of long term sustainability of the fuels. They can also provide additional benefits such as increased employment in the rural areas, where there is minimal to no source of sustaining standard livelihood. Governments can also higher taxes on land and crops, which can be used to maintaining the society in a better way.


It is important for the governments to make sure to eliminate the side effects of shifting to biofuels. Ineffective policies may lead to illegal land acquisitions by landlords, taking away of employment opportunities and the appropriate remuneration.

Farming through inappropriate ways, if unchecked, can actually lead to more emission of greenhouse gases, rather than curbing it.

Analyzing the technology on the Quadruple Bottom Line, it is safe to say that the benefits of shifting to the bio-energy clearly outweigh the cons and that with time, we will be able to accept and adapt to the shift. There is a long-term sustainability associated with the shift, which makes the technology easily classifiable as a “sustainable technology”. The below QBL chart sums up the analysis of the technology:

Future of the Technology, Recommendation and Conclusion

The production of biofuels is increasing throughout the world. One of the primary reasons for this could be a rapidly increasing world price of fossil fuels. Use of biofuels can provide us with the much needed energy independence. Ethanol produced from corn, bio-diesel produced from waste cooking oil, etc. are some of the best ways to convert domestic waste into energy.
However, increased dependency on these crops and domestic wastes can be impacted by one simple question: how soon can these crops replenish in order to make up as a sustainable energy source? The answer to this would be our next step to move on to second generation biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol, algae biodiesel, etc. that would no more depend on food crops for their production.
With more R&D put into the technology, the production of cars and other vehicles with ethanol friendly engines will also go up. It is not only the individuals, but the governments of various developed and developing economies across the world are putting in a lot of incentives for the industries and locals to promote the use of green energy and technology.
In order to be able to successfully incorporate the bio-energy, it needs to be made an integral part of the global climate policy. The policies need to be away from the false assumptions that its use will free up the energy sector of any carbon dioxide emissions. Secondly, all the emissions from all the sources and sectors should be realistically measured. Being realistic about the expected reduction of emissions would align the way the bioenergy is perceived. Thirdly, there is a need of regulations that govern trade between the nations that have and the nations that do not have prior binding commitments of limiting carbon emissions.
Agencies need to come up with projects that aim to improve the traditional and inefficient form of biomass and transition to the use of energy from sustainable biomass. Also, since an unplanned shift to cultivation of energy crops can actually lead to increased deforestation in developing countries, an effective regime to reduce the emissions from deforestation and keep it in check needs to be in place. The policies can be successfully implemented by providing incentives for reducing the carbon emissions, and at national level in order to prevent the leakage. The policies should be based on and be able to set the standards and certifications for sustainable bioenergy and land use.
If we can reduce our dependency on food crops and still produce bio-fuels, it would take away most of the problems associated with the use shift, discussed above. Next generation bio-fuels are expected to play a big deciding factor on whether the world will make the move towards the shift to the use of green energy or not.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (2008). Soaring food prices: facts, perspectives, impacts and actions required. Document HLC/08/INF/1, prepared for the “High-level conference on world food security: the challenges of climate change and bioenergy”, 3-5 June, 2008, Rome, Italy.
FO Licht´s World Ethanol & Biofuels Report: (2007). EU-Biofuels Feedstock Balances for the European Union 2006-2013 (mi tonnes), Vol.5, Nr. 12, Page 249
Gabriele C. Hegerl (1996). Detecting Greenhouse-Gas-Induced Climate Change with an Optimal Fingerprint Method. Journal of Climate. pp. 2281-2306
Huang, H., Khanna, M., Onal, H., and Chen, X (2013). Stacking low carbon policies on the renewable fuels standard: Economic and greenhouse gas implications. Energy Policy 56: 5-15.
IEA (2006). Key World Energy Statistics, Online:
Melillo, J., Reilly, J., Kickligher, D., Gurgel, A., Cronin, T., Paltsev S., Felzer, B., Wang, X., Sokolov, A., and Schlosser, S.A. (2009). Indirect Emissions from Biofuels: How Important? Science 326 (5958): 1397-1399.
National Research Council (2006). Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the last 2,000 Years. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
National Research Council (2011). Committee on Economic and Environmental Impacts of Increasing Biofuels Production. Renewable Fuel Standard: Potential Economic and Environmental Effects of U.S. Biofuel Policy. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Peters, J., Thielmann, S. (2008). Promoting biofuels: implications for developing countries. Ruhr Economic Papers No. 38. Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Essen, Germany. 
Rosegrant, M.W, Zhu, T., Msangi, S., Sulser, T (2008). Global Scenarios for Biofuels. Impacts and Implications. Review of Agricultural Economics, 30(3), 495-505.
Stern, Sir Nicholas (2007). Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Online:
US Environmental Protection Agency (2010). Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2) Regulatory Impact Analysis.
World Bank (2010). Environmental, economic and social impacts of oil palm in Indonesia: a synthesis of opportunities and challenges. World Bank, Washington, D.C., USA.

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