Good Biofuels And Sustainability Essay Example
Oil is an essential product that plays an indispensable role in the modern world. Nearly all aspects of the human life involve the use of petroleum. Oil facilitates transportation, power generation, the manufacturing industry, and constitutes numerous consumer goods. Therefore, oil plays a big role in influencing the health of an economy. The global vagaries in oil prices are directly linked to the cost of living. High oil prices cause cost-push inflation given the demand inelasticity of oil. Also, oil being a fossil hydrocarbon and its use through combustion such as in the internal combustion engines leads to toxic carbonaceous emissions. Fossil fuels emissions are the major cause of environmental pollution, global warming, and the subsequent melting of the polar ice. Being a mineral, oil reserves are quickly getting depleted as its exploitation increases to feed an ever growing demand. To ensure environmental and economic sustainability and wean economies from declining fossil fuels reserves, there is an urgent need to create an alternative fuel. Biofuels have been taunted as a possible solution to the fossil fuels problem. This is a paper on the use of biofuels as an alternative fuel. Special focus is given to biofuel technology development and its contribution to sustainability.
Biofuel is fuel extracted from organic matter and is primarily a hydrocarbon compound referred to as ethanol. Ethanol is derived from biological materials such as plants through a biochemical conversion process called fermentation. The resulting product from the fermentation process is called bioethanol. Bioethanol is obtained from carbohydrate present in starch and sugar crops such as sugarcane, corn, or sweet sorghum. However, the use of food plants such as corn for bioethanol production is deemed to threaten food security, hence the need for the use of non-food biomass material. As a result, cellulosic biomass such as grass and trees, are being investigated as possible ethanol sources (Currie-McGhee 70).
Ethanol in its pure form can fuel vehicles. But this it is very difficult to obtain ethanol at such high levels of concentration. Therefore, ethanol is blended with gasoline to create a fuel blend known as gasohol (Currie-McGhee 55). Bioethanol improves the octane number of gasoline for easier ignition and reduction of knocking in engines. Also, it reduces carbon content in emissions. Gasohol is widely used in Brazil and USA. Biodiesel is also a fuel blended from ethanol and diesel. Unlike gasohol, biodiesel cannot be used on its own but rather it’s rather used as a diesel additive to reduce toxicity in emissions by lowering particulates, hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide emitted from diesel locomotives.
Contribution of biofuels to sustainability
The use of biofuels can create sustainability in world economies. Biofuels derived from plants would ensure the movements of prices are not hinged on the price oil. By offering a cheap fuel alternative, consumers, who are usually controlled by prices, would shun fossil fuels and switch to biofuels. Economies would be cushioned against artificial oil shortages orchestrated by oil cartels for selfish individual gains. Fuel crisis that have been witnessed in the past would never recur again since plants to produce more biofuel would always be available. Consequently, price push or demand pull types of inflation due to oil shortages would be a thing of the past. Also, biofuels would reduce overdependence on oil producing countries and correct trade deficits.
Development of biofuel production technology would create numerous economic opportunities. Factory workers would be engaged in the production process, rural farmers would grow cash crops for sale to biofuel processing companies and they would also be able to lease out land for income. Research in modern agricultural practices would be stepped up in order to realize maximum crop output owing limited land availability. This would benefit even non-biofuel related farming which would further improve the living standards (Currie-McGhee 65).
Environmentally, widespread biofuels use would meet the energy demand by complementing conventional fuels at a reduced carbon footprint. The use of blended fuels would lead to a reduction in tons of carbon dioxide emitted annually with no reduction in economic output.
Also, biofuels are being applied in electrical power generation. Biogas derived from fermentation of organic matter is combusted in internal combustion engines thereby providing torque which drives generators. The use of biofuel for electrical generation replaces diesel used in thermal power plants. Diesel has a very high carbon content and thus leads to large volumes of emissions especially when used in large power stations (Horn and Debra 25).
A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) “Technology Roadmap: Biofuels for Transport”, indicates that biofuels have the potential support a quarter of the global transport fuel needs by the year 2050. The current fuels needs serviced by biofuels globally stands at two percent. The targeted uptake of biofuels is among the strategies aimed at halving carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 through adoption of key technologies. These policies constitute a roadmap for enhancing sustainability. The International Energy Agency plans to distribute the road map to all governments, key industry players and their financers in a bid to identify ways of implementing emission reducing technologies such as biofuels (Bevill par. 1).
According to the IEA report, sustainability is closely linked to the development and use of biofuels. The body identified three pillars of sustainability that must be considered in the development of relevant technologies; environment, social, and economic. Biofuels, if properly developed, can support all the three pillars by creating energy security by offering a clean and low-cost fuel which is abundantly available.
On top of reducing the carbon footprint due to the use of fossil fuels, biofuel projects can lead to positive environmental impacts. Growing of perennial crops on marginal land can reduce soil erosion, improve water retention, increase carbon stocks, and offer an extra source of income to rural residents (Horn and Debra 30).
Proliferation of biofuels can only be achieved if proper resources are committed to the development of conventionally appropriate technologies. The concerned industries, such as global oil companies should champion research in this field since they have the prerequisite knowledge and resources at their disposal. The immediate hurdles in the way of commercial biofuel application are low fuel efficiency, high costs, and lack of an economically sustainable production process. Therefore, for biofuel manufacture and use to be economically feasible, serious research and backing is required (Bevill par. 6).
Biofuels cannot be fully embraced if fossil fuels offer a cheaper and more convenient option. IEA recommends retraction of fossil fuel subsidies by governments and the introduction of carbon emission charges. Proceeds from such levies should then be channeled towards biofuel development activities.
Shortcomings of biofuels
The main hindrance of biofuel proliferation is that it competes with food crops for water, land, and other farming resources intended to feed an ever growing world population. The High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition has raised concerns that the current conventional biofuel production from food crops imperils food security, environmental protection, and sustainable land use worldwide. Also, the current biofuel production has not provided the projected reductions in greenhouse emissions or cost efficiency ((Horn and Debra 77).
The future of biofuels
In order to stimulate enough traction in the biofuel industry capable of facilitating reduction in greenhouse emissions, energy efficiency, effective land use, and create positive social impacts, a lot of backing is required. Governments and relevant authorities should institute policies which enhance investor confidence and facilitates large-scale production of biofuels. Federal loans and guarantees should also be afforded to developers to mitigate the high level of risk associated with commercial production of biofuel. Governments should also offer other financial incentives to producers such as tax waivers and subsidies. These incentives could be correlated to the sustainability resulting from the biofuels and phased out over time as the fuels become more competitive with fossil fuels. The EIA’s economic analysis shows that biofuels will become cost-competitive with fossils by the year 2030.
Cellulosic ethanol, derived from cellulose, is a high octane fuel just as corn ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol has a huge fuel potential. In the United States, The Department of Energy estimated a total cellulose quantity of 1.3 billion tons in 2013, enough to produce ethanol to power a third of the domestic transport fuel needs. The Renewable Fuels Standard has pegged production of renewable fuel at 36bilion gallons by 2022, with 16billion gallons coming from cellulose.
In order to achieve the 2050 five percent ethanol projections, there is an urgent need to commercialize advanced biofuels such as cellulosic ethanol. The biofuel industry should also develop sustainability certification schemes to streamline operations and track developments. The regulatory bodies should also partner with private investors to ensure sustainable growth and trust between the stakeholders.
Research in biofuels should be ramped up through large scale field trials to increase fuel efficiency, come up with better production methods, and develop new feedstock. Research data from studies and trials should be shared widely in order to increase awareness and public acceptance.
Biofuels have a very significant potential to revolutionize the fuel industry and ensure sustainability. Currently, global economies rely on fossil fuels found only in a selected number of countries leading to severe trade deficits among poor countries with no oil reserves. Fossil fuels are also the major contributor to global warming through greenhouse emissions. Biofuels are the perfect answer to fossil fuel. If properly developed, biofuels can offer countries energy security and cheap and environmentally friendly alternative fuel.
Bevill, Kris. “IEA finds biofuels contribute to sustainable energy future.” Ethanol producer magazine, 22 April 2011. Web. 19 March 2015.
Currie-McGhee, L K. Biofuels. San Diego, CA: ReferencePoint Press, 2010. Print.
Horn, Geoffrey M, and Debra Voege. Biofuels. New York, NY: Chelsea Clubhouse, 2010. Print.