It is too early to write off biofuels

By: Jeroen Berger, July 27, 2017

Over the last years biofuels have fallen into disrepute. How “green” are biofuels really? How much fertilizer and crude oil is needed? Is it respectable for the planet to produce plants for making a biofuel? They were all justified questions, but what turns out: it is too early to write off biofuels.


Sugar from Brazilian sugar cane


It all started with the sugar from Brazilian sugar cane. Fifty years ago this sugar was transformed into alcohol and mixed with gas and converted into an useful biofuel. The purpose of this was to make Brazil less dependent on oil imports.


And it turns out that the decreasing reliance on oil imports have succeeded. Because since the arrival of this biofuel, Brazil is producing today 16 billion liters of bioethanol. Thanks to that, Brazil is replacing the need for 18% of using gas. Partly as a result of this success other countries were growing other crops for producing biofuels during the last two decades. Good examples include maize in the United States (US), the sugar beet in the Netherlands and the grain from Sweden.


“Green” arguments


The arguments for producing biofuels are partly the same for each country. For example, the maize in the mid-west of the United States, which was converted into an useful biofuel, has the purpose to achieve less dependent on oil from the Middle East. Another “green” argument was that the fuel produced from plants is more sustainable then petroleum in theory, because plants grow every year. Other people argue that there is more reduction in CO2 emissions, because the plants are absorbing CO2 too.


More efficient and “green” with the years


The biofuel is in full evolution. Bioethanol is a clear example of this. This fuel will be more efficient and “green” with time. For example, a lot of American farmers have improved their agricultural productivity in the production of alcohol from maize. For one hectare there is produced today seven times more maize as in the forties and twice as much as in the seventies.


Biofuels made from wastes


If we are talking about the conventional biofuel, they will be made of plant material. Good examples include palm oil, rapeseed, sugar cane and maize. With the second generation the biofuel is made of waste. For example, residues from maize or plants that are not suitable for consumption like wood chips.


Biofuels and maritime transport


For shipping the use of biofuels is one of the options to reduce emissions of harmful substances into the air and water. When I am investigating the technical, economical, sustainable and organizational aspects of using biofuels, studies are indicating that the use of biofuels could be a promising alternative to become climate-neutral. Obstacles to the adoption of biofuels are located in the area of policy and organization.


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