Back to basics: 4 advantages of biofuels
In August 2015 I covered the top 3 reasons why biofuels are better for the U.S., and wanted to broaden that focus and explore the benefits of biofuels worldwide.
Biofuels reduce harmful emissions, lowering impact on the environment
Ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 34% in comparison to gasoline. According to Biofuels 2050, advanced biofuels today help reduce C02 emissions by up to 90% and are the most efficient way to reduce carbon in transportation in the existing car pool. It may seem obvious, but the great thing about biofuels is that the plants they’re made from have already absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere while they were growing – making them almost net-zero emissions. As technology in both the agricultural and bioenergy industries continues to advance, more alternative energy sources can be used in the production of biofuels.
Beyond cars, biofuels could make a huge difference in aviation fuel too. According to the Air Transport Action group, the global aviation industry produces around 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide emissions, which corresponds to 12% of emissions from all transport sources. In 2014, Boeing announced a “green diesel” fuel that would reduce CO2 emissions by at least 50%. When considered across the global transportation industry, biofuels can lead to dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Biofuels pose less risk to human health
Crude oil refineries are a detriment to their neighbors. There are 153 oil refineries in the United States alone, and over 90 million people live within a 30 mile radius of them. Every year oil refineries release millions of pounds of chemicals (butadiene, benzene and formaldehyde, to name a few), which can cause cancer and birth defects. They also release pollutants such as lead and sulfur dioxide, which can cause health problems like asthma and heart disease.
But biofuels health benefits extend past refineries too. As the world’s largest producer of sugarcane ethanol, Brazil has seen the benefits from making biofuels such an integral part of the country. The Air Pollution Laboratory at São Paulo University’s Faculty of Medicine studied the vehicle fleet of São Paulo, South America’s largest and most densely populated city. Researchers found that replacing gasoline and diesel with ethanol in that one city would lead to health benefits such as:
- Saving 1,400 lives per year
- Preventing more than 9,000 hospital admissions per year
- Saving the government more than $190 million annually
Biofuels provide economic benefits
Biofuels contribute to economic development around the world. As the top ethanol producer, the U.S. saw 401,000 jobs created from ethanol in 2011 alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Yet biofuels jobs are growing quickly internationally. The International Renewable Energy Agency’s annual review of Renewable Energy and Jobs tallied 1.8 million biofuels jobs worldwide – and over another million in other types of bioenergy. China, Indonesia and Thailand in particular saw significant job growth. Indonesia’s labor-intensive palm oil-based biodiesel industry, for instance, supports 223,000 jobs.
The economic benefits of biofuels go beyond job creation though. Combined spending for operations, research, and agriculture in 2011 added $42.4 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product. According to the Worldwatch Institute’s book, Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Energy and Agriculture, a rise in biofuel production could have unanticipated economic benefits. The book informs that the world has 800 million undernourished people, and the majority reside in rural areas:
“Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil and 25 import all of their oil; for these nations, the tripling in oil prices has been an economic disaster. But nations that develop domestic biofuels industries will be able to purchase fuel from their own farmers rather than spending scarce foreign exchange on imported oil.”
Biofuels are more readily available and sustainable
Biofuels are easy to source and can be grown almost anywhere. Fossil fuels come from limited areas of the world, and as we use up our known supply, we’re driven to further extremes to find more, such as drilling in the arctic, or fracking.
Biofuels are the most readily available among alternatives to fossil fuels. Biofuel.org.UK suggests that biofuels top the list of alternative fuels and that as fossil fuel supplies dwindle, biofuels will become our main source of fuel.
At the same time, producing biodiesel is becoming easier and more energy efficient than producing petroleum. Researchers from the University of Idaho and the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that for every unit of fossil fuel energy needed to grow and refine soybeans into biodiesel, 4.5 units of energy are gained. In comparison, for every unit of fossil fuel needed to produce petroleum diesel, the return is less than one.
What about you? Use the comments section below to let us know your thoughts on the importance of biofuels in the world’s energy future.
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