A biofuel is any fuel that is derived from a biomass. That is, recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, such as manure from cows. It is a renewable energy source, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal and nuclear fuels. Scientific studies are finding that biofuels — a long-time cornerstone in the search for green energy — may sometimes produce more harmful emissions than the fossil fuels they replace. Peder Jensen, of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen said, “If you make biofuels properly, you will reduce greenhouse emissions… But that depends very much on the types of plants and how they’re grown and processed. You can end up with a 90 percent reduction compared to fossil fuels — or a 20 percent increase.” He added, “Its important to take a life cycle view”.
The following demonstrates how different economic valuations develop with technology: The quality of timber and grassy biomass does not have a direct impact on its value as an energy source. Biomass is a warehouse mechanism to store solar energy. The energy of the sun is “captured” through the process of photosynthesis in growing plants. Energy content varies, but not along traditional quality lines.
One definition of biofuel is any fuel with an 80% minimum content by volume of materials derived from living organisms harvested within the ten years preceding its manufacture.
Switchgrass, prairie grasses, and woody plants theoretically could produce celluloid ethanol. Today the process is in the laboratory development phase. If a practical process is found to convert these to biofuel, to do so could cause a reduction in soil fertility, since they would not be plowed back into the ground to fertilize next season’s crops.
Ethanol, grain alcohol, is the US’ most widely used biofuel. About 3.9-billion gallons were produced in the US in 2005. This amount is trivial compared with the 140-billion gallons of gas used in the US. Achieving the federal mandate to increase ethanol use to 7.5-billion gallons by 2012 was demonstrated to have been realistic. However, it doesn’t make much difference in the price of fuel, in foreign oil dependency, in air pollution, or for global warming. The primary fuel for the foreseeable future will still be gasoline.
If consumption increases at historical rates, the extra ethanol will barely offset the growth in gasoline consumption expected by then. In fact, it is unlikely to reduce it. Some carbon in biofuels has been recently extracted from atmospheric carbon dioxide by growing plants. Therefore, extracting the carbon as part of the energy release process does not result in a net increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.
Government subsidies and tax breaks for corn growers and refineries are causing an artificial migration toward ethanol before significant long-term costs and impacts have been identified.