[ Can biofuels replace fossil fuels? ]

Owing to transportation, fuel demand continues to grow, and petroleum — which is readily available, is dominating the market. Today we can witness two factions — one group which believes fossil fuels cannot be replaced by biofuels and the other which believes biofuels have more advantages than fossil fuels. Biofuels are an alternative source of energy which is produced from sugar crops, starch crops, oil-seed crops and animal fats. Sugar crops like sugarcane and sugar beet; starch crops like corn and sorghum, and oil-seed crops like soybean and canola. Sooner or later, there are chances that biofuels will start dominating the modern world in terms of energy supply. However, it does need a stable and supportive policy to grab the chair. The early 21st century witnessed rapid growth in the biofuel sector by welcoming several business environments and even the implementation of certain market mandates. Technology’s immense growth has also aided by making biofuels cost-competitive on par with fossil fuels. However, the rapid increase in production and consumption of biofuels created economic uncertainty which eventually slowed the growth and destabilised the business environment. There was a lack of stable policies which may help coordinate engine and fuel specifications, alongside supporting the emergence of novel biofuel feedstock commodity markets and lowering the cost of capital for constructing bio-refineries to help biofuel producers to overcome certain challenges. A few researchers state that if fossil fuels are replaced with biofuels, there is a possibility that this process will reduce certain unwanted aspects. These aspects include greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), conventional pollutant emissions, depending on unstable foreign suppliers and exhausting available resources. The most widely used bio alcohol fuel is ethanol which is made of plants — resulting in reduced emission when compared to fossil fuels; it is cleaner than petrol or diesel and environment friendly. This fact supports the point that fossil fuels should be replaced by biofuels in order to reduce the pollution caused by the former. On the contrary, it does not mean that biofuels will completely reduce the pollution caused by fossil fuels. Ethanol produces less energy compared to petrol or diesel. For example, you would end up burning more biofuel than regular fuel to travel the same distance. It is also essential for us to know that producing and using biofuels, in and itself, would not reduce conventional pollutant or GHG emissions, ease the pressure on exhaustible resources nor reduce petroleum imports. For us to witness the benefits while utilising and producing biofuels, we should also reduce the use of fossil fuels at the same time. These benefits would subside completely if biofuels emissions and resources were to increase instead of replacing those of fossil fuels. Despite their disadvantages, biofuels are renewable fuels and they do not run out like fossil fuels. We can continue producing biofuels as long as there is enough agricultural land to grow certain crops. One of the main problems we face with agricultural lands is — considering the evergrowing population, obtaining land to grow more plants for biofuels may turn controversial. In the event where we allot agricultural lands for producing crops for biofuels, we may not have enough land to grow crops to meet the growing demand for food. This challenge has encouraged researchers to develop new technologies that help industries manage biofuels and food production. On the other hand, fossil fuels are depleting at an alarming rate. According to the Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA), “There is a growing concern about the role of biofuels in rising food prices…and doubts about the climate benefits. This has led to serious questions about their sustainability.” A major problem in commercialising biofuels is their cost when compared to petroleum-based fuels. Limited energy density and the ever-growing price of raw materials used to make biofuels continue to turn into a nightmare. The higher the biofuel content in fuel, the lower the energy density and efficiency. It’s also important to consider the return on investment when considering alternative fuels to petroleum; how much net energy gain resides in the end product when compared to what was used during its production. Transportation also plays an important part, without that we wouldn’t be able to transfer the petroleum to refineries or the crops to production plants in order to turn them into fuel. Biofuels are very corrosive and end up causing cracks in steel and so, the industry is dominated by road tankers and rail tankers. The pipeline system would end up corroded with innumerable cracks if biofuel is transported through them — that would just be unwanted additional costs to repair them. Trucks have the ability to transport costs by a factor of five while rail tankers do the same by a factor of three or four. A report from the European Environmental Agency (EEA) reads, “Pressures can be minimised, for example by growing low-impact bioenergy crops and not allowing the ploughing of permanent grasslands or by adapting the intensity of residue extraction to local soil conditions.” “Applying a number of environmental rules and standards seems therefore necessary when increasing bio-energy production.” Biofuels may or may not dominate the fossil fuel industry but, there need to be certain rules about agricultural lands and managing them — else food prices will soar the skies.