Many people have now heard about biofuels. Generally, people think of biofuels as a greener alternative to fossil fuels but do you really know about biofuels are? Do you know what their pros and cons are? What is the true advantage of biofuel energy?
The issue of biofuels is actually a lot more complex than it may appear at first so looking at a list of pros and cons is a good way to understand what is involved in them. But, first, it is a good idea to know what they are.
What Are Biofuels?
Biofuels are an energy source obtained from organic material (animal waste, plants, etc.), which scientists call biomass. The energy that is obtained from biofuels is known as bioenergy.
It is estimated that about 10% of the world’s energy is already bioenergy. Biomass is particularly used in developing of third world countries for basic everyday tasks, such as cooking. For the most part, biofuel is used in the home (up to 80%), followed by industrial processes (around 18%), and minimally (less than 2%) to fuel vehicles. But we need to make a distinction between primary biofuels and secondary biofuels.
What are primary biofuels?
Primary biofuels are, generally, unprocessed materials that are mostly used for cooking or heating. They include the following:
- Wood chips
What are secondary biofuels?
Secondary biofuels, on the other hand, are processed biomass generally used in industrial processes and in fueling vehicles. They are normally liquid in form. They include the following:
What Are the Pros of Using Biofuels?
Biofuels have many advocates. And they will be the first ones to tell you that using bioenergy has many advantages. So, if you want to make your own mind up about this energy source, here are the main pros of using biofuels.
- Low cost
- No “finding cost” compared to conventional hydrocarbons
- They are manufactured and recycled
- Sovereignty: Any country can produce biofuels
- Less need for transportation: i.e. costs, carbon footprint, locally sourced
- Localized job stimulation and economic benefits
One of the main advantages of biofuels is their relatively low cost. Biofuels are definitely cheaper than fossil fuels. For example, a biofuel such as ethanol is cheaper than fossil fuels such as gasoline or diesel. But not only that, this price difference will continue to increase not necessarily because biofuels will become cheaper. Rather, the price difference will grow as the price of fossil fuels continues to augment. There is a tendency of fossil fuels to become more expensive because they become gradually scarcer.
Another advantage of biofuels is their source material. If we compared, once again, fossil fuels and biofuels, we would see that the source materials for biofuels are not limited. Unlike, fossil fuels, biofuels can actually be manufactured. And not only that, they can also be recycled. This is because we can obtain biopower from all kinds of waste, including manure. In a way, we could even say that biofuels can be renewed. And this is one of its major advantages, according to its proponents.
Another major advantage is sovereignty. Because the source materials used for producing biofuels are widely available around the world they have the potential of allowing communities and countries to rely on their own resources. Fossil fuels, however, are only available in very specific regions, so nations relying on this energy in other regions depend on foreign energy. Increasing the levels of locally produced biofuels. Linked to that point, there are environmental considerations. If we do not need to transport this kind of fuel across vast regions, we reduce the carbon emissions (let alone, the risk of spillage, etc.). But not only that, the burning of biofuels produces much lower carbon emissions.
Finally, because biofuels can be obtained locally they can have a positive impact on local economies, particularly in terms of job creation. But not only that, their production can also stimulate local agriculture as an industry.
What Are the Cons of Using Biofuels?
Water is the driving force of all nature. – Leonardo da Vinci
But there are also some disadvantages that also need to be taken into account. For example, when we compare biofuels to other fuels (and not necessarily just fossil fuels), they pale in terms of the energy output they create. What this means is that you need large quantities of biofuels to produce the same amount of energy that other source materials (most notably, fossil fuels) would.
Although the proponents of biofuels claim that biofuels produce fewer carbon emissions than other energy sources, its detractors would actually argue the opposite. If we take into account the heavy machinery that is necessary in order to produce biofuels and consider their carbon emissions as part of the equation then, suddenly, biofuels do not seem so clear anymore.
Even though, in theory, biofuels should have lower costs than other energy sources; the reality is that currently there are high costs involved. This is simply because so high-cost initial investments would need to be made before costs would go down. Currently, biofuels are a rather costly way to fuel vehicles such as cars.
- Energy output
- Large quantities needed to produce energy
- Requires carbon intensive machinery to process
- High cost of initial investment
- Impacts crop prices for foods
- Puts pressure on water resources
Another disadvantage is that using crops to produce biopower can have an impact on the price of certain staple food, therefore increasing their prices. But not only that, in some areas it might also cause food shortages. This is an important consideration as it could be tempted to see biofuel as an alternative to other energy sources in developing countries.
Linked to that is also the huge amounts of water that are necessary to produce biofuel locally. Water availability is also a serious problem in many parts of the world. So using massive amounts of it for new purposes (such as producing crops destined to generate energy) is also hugely problematic.
So, these are the pros and cons of biofuel. While the proponents of this kind of energy would only highlight its advantages. But now, that you have read not only what its advantages are but also about its disadvantages, you can make up your mind if they are worth investing in or not.