At first glance, you may think that biofuels provide an ideal answer to fossil fuel use. They are natural, which always counts for something. There is, however, more to the story. It concerns the source and its environmental impact. The truth may surprise you.
Types of Biofuels
The industry classifies biofuels into two main types: first-generation or second-generation. The former includes familiar sources, such as corn and soybeans. The latter consists of more obscure sources, such as recycled cooking oil and agricultural by-products and waste.
Of the two, second-generation biofuels offer a more eco-friendly solution. The problem is that the focus has been on first-generation biofuels by both the United States and the EU.
Problems with Biofuels
The first question is whether or not biofuels even provide a good solution. A study by Oregon State University concluded that the environmental benefits are negligible.
The researchers contend that production uses fossil fuels to get the product to market. Production also requires use of chemicals such as nitrogen fertilizers. In the end, biofuels may not reduce greenhouse gas emissions as much as proponents may expect. They may even produce more emissions.
The Indirect Effects
Other concerns exist with additional environmental impacts. It doesn’t matter if you are growing corn for food or biofuels. Environmental risks include increased water and chemical use–and consequently, a greater threat of water and soil pollution.
Then, there is the economic factor. If gas prices rise, so too will the cost of biofuels increase with the rise in demand. Another risk exists that high prices may lead to further environmental impacts by putting more land in production.
The poor may end up experiencing the greater economic impacts. Higher fuel prices affect all income levels. The drive to meet biofuel demand can add to the economic woes, with higher food prices as agriculture shifts toward the more lucrative biofuel market.
The potential that biofuels may not solve the planet’s energy needs casts serious doubts on whether it is the best solution. The added risk of impacts on the poor make biofuels a poor investment in the future of cleaner environment. An ineffective solution is not a replacement for one that will serve everyone’s needs.