The world’s dependence on nonrenewable resources has been a controversial topic for decades. As researchers and geologists claim that our Earth only has enough fossil fuel reserves left to last up to a couple more decades, there’s been a push to find alternative measures to power our lives the way oil and coal are currently doing. The solution could possibly be biofuels, but there are pros and cons to them.
Biofuels are a group of resources that are made from things like crops and waste products. It makes sense to use these items in a way that furthers our lives, and biofuels could potentially reduce the effects of global warming and lower our reliance on nonrenewable resources. However, the disadvantages must be addressed before everyone in the research field can agree on them.
Statistics on Fossil Fuel Use
Fossil fuels are sources of energy that form in the Earth’s crust over thousands of years. They are made from decayed organic material and turn into natural gas, coal, and petroleum. These fuels are the predominant resource used in the energy production and consumption industries in the United States.
As of 2019, 80% of all domestic energy production came from fossil fuels and 80% of the domestic energy consumption did, as well. When primary energy sources are converted into electricity, the primary energy turns into the sales that a utility company offers. In the U.S., the share of total energy production was at its peak in 1966 at 93%. While production has continued to rise, consumption of regular electricity has not. The production of crude oil, dry natural gas, and natural gas plant liquids has helped to offset coal production.
In fact, in 2019, the country’s energy production exceeded its consumption for the first time in decades, and exports exceeded imports, as well. This shows that the United States is able to finally produce its own energy for the first time since the 1950s. Part of this success is based on the turn to biofuels for energy.
What are Biofuels?
Any type of fuel is defined as something that is burned to release energy through combustion, a chemical reaction. The type of chemical reaction changes based on the fuel that is burned, but the basic formula is the same and the process is similar. Just about any organic substance can be used as fuel to create a chemical reaction, but the most common substances include wood, oil, coal, and gas. These are each made from hydrocarbons and originate from the decayed remains of a living thing.
Biofuel can refer to any fuel that is made from a living organism or its waste, but today’s “biofuel” term typically means the liquid and gas produced from crops and waste products. Many of the top biofuels are made from ethanol and biodiesel, but all biofuels are referred to in “generational” terms.
The first-generation biofuels are products sourced from vegetable oil, ethanol, methanol, and biodiesel. These are called first-generation because they can be burned to become a fuel directly or they can be turned into biodiesel to be used as a substitute for gas and a reduction of vehicle emissions.
Second-generation biofuels are crops that have been turned into liquid fuels. These aren’t directly burned and used as fuel. They undergo a chemical process that uses things such as BioHydrogen and mixed alcohols. Because they are designed to release a lot of energy, they are typically more efficient than first-generation biofuels.
The advanced version of biofuels is referred to as “third-generation.” These are made out of oil produced from algae. The oil is refined and turned into a conventional fuel, but because these are algae-derived, it doesn’t take a lot of room to get the oil necessary. They do, however, require a lot of water and fertilizer, which can get costly.
The Pros and Cons of Biofuels
Over the past few years, biofuels have been a topic of discussion in research arenas and in the news everywhere. Biofuels have a significant advantage in that they can be produced from crops and waste rather than oil shipped from other places in the world. With America’s reliance on oil from the Middle East, this new method of production is a serious benefit.
Additionally, using biofuels consistently could reduce the total world carbon dioxide emissions by almost ten percent of the world’s global total. Since burning fossil fuels increases the emissions entering the air, this is a huge decrease.
However, if there were only positives, everyone would be in agreement with using biofuels. Unfortunately, there are a lot of major disadvantages, too. For instance, biofuels require a lot of energy to produce and to use. Using that much energy means generating more gas in areas where biofuels can’t replace fossil fuel. When properly sustained, biofuels can be certified by an independent third-party that labels how eco-friendly a biofuel actually is.
Also, fossil fuel production requires very little geographic land, whereas biofuels need a massive amount to grow the crops that will be harvested to create fuels.
Whether the energy and effort used to create biofuels is actually worth the resources is a topic that needs more investigation. Until then, the subject of biofuels remains a controversial one in the field of science.