Biofuels are green – and getting greener
Biofuels have an important role to play in the world’s future, sustainable energy mix. Biofuel production from sugarcane, corn, wheat, or cassava is already green technology; advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, produced from agricultural residues, waste, or woody biomass, will be even greener. The industry is constantly improving technologies and processes – delivering increasingly green and sustainable energy.
Biofuels significantly reduce CO2 emissions compared to fossil fuels. Biofuel is the only currently available option which notably limits CO2 emissions in transport: starch ethanol reduces emissions by an average of 37-40%; sugarcane ethanol reduces emissions about 90%. Advanced biofuel from, for example, corn stover, sugar cane bagasse, wheat straw and wood, is expected to reduce emissions by at least 90% too.
Biofuels are a low-carbon fuel for a low-carbon future. Biofuels recycle atmospheric carbon, while fossil fuels irreversibly release carbon that has been stored underground for millions of years. All fuels have an impact on our environment. But the impact can be minimized if we make informed choices – based on a fair assessment of fossil fuels vs. renewable biofuels – in a market that gives appropriate credit to sustainable and truly CO2-emission-reducing technologies.
Biofuels provide food and energy from the same crop. Biofuels produced with enzyme technology enable us to use all crop components – where and when they create the most value. Carbohydrates can be used for fuel, and proteins for animal feed. This significantly reduces the land, water, and carbon footprints for biofuel – all important factors in a resource-constrained world.
Biofuels help drive increasingly sustainable agriculture. The sustainability of biofuels depends on the sustainability of agriculture. Production of sustainable biofuels leads to:
- better land-use management
- adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices
- more advanced biofuel production
This will help drive increased crop production and utilization, as well as reduced input use – in agriculture in general1.
Biofuel feedstocks can be produced with less input. Many biofuel crops need less fertilizer and water, and can even help restore eroded areas and revitalize local ecosystems. Many energy crops give acceptable yields on marginal land. Worldwide, about 3.7 trillion acres of land are used for crops – biofuels crops make up only 50 million acres. According to Oxford Journals Bioscience, only 17% of the world’s cropland is irrigated, and the International Water Management Institute says the global impact of irrigating crops for biofuel is minor.
Biofuels contribute to social and economic development of local communities. Already today, biofuels generate thousands of jobs and improved energy security in Brazil and the United States, for example. But in developing countries, 3 billion people are still without access to modern energy, 2 million deaths per year are associated with indoor use of traditional fuels and half of the world’s poorest countries import all of their oil. The production and use of biofuels can generate local jobs, provide access to energy, reduce deaths from respiratory diseases and reduce dependency on imported oil2, 3.
With such overwhelming evidence supporting the environmental benefits of biofuels over petroleum, those who support other fuel industries might just be green with envy. The data is clear though: biofuels are a green alternative and are becoming greener as the industry continues to develop.
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1UN-Energy, Sustainable Bioenergy: A Framework for Decision Makers, 2007: More efficient farming via technology transfer/investments could bridge the yield gap between the developing countries and the rest of the world.
2FAO. 2008: The State of Food and Agriculture.
3UNDP/WHO, 2009: The Energy Access Situation in Developing Countries