Bio Fuels – A Scientific Issue

Thoughtlessly carried out work or work done in order to achieve an end without paying heed to the means can often turn out to bring almost no good to anybody. Science and scientific inventions have been good as well bad to mankind, the animal kingdom and plant kingdom, basically the whole environment in general. The inventions may have been made for delivering something good but at times it turns out to be completely opposite and can often be misused to cause harm.

Biofuels are one such invention of science by mankind, about whose effects and much greater side-effects I am going to talk about in this article. To start with, I think it is necessary to define what a biofuel is? As defined by a primer on “Biofuel is any fuel derived from organic matter mostly plants and agricultural crops.” Biofuels can be solid (like wood), liquid (for instance biodiesel, bioethanol) as well as gaseous.

In terms of technology used, biofuels are classified as – first generation, second generation and third generation biofuels. First generation biofuels, as defined by Wikipedia, are fuels made from sugar, starch, vegetable oil, animal fat using conventional technology. Due to some limitations in the production techniques of first generation fuels, second generation fuels came into being. These are derived from cellulose and made using an advanced technology. Third generation biofuels come from algae and are thus named oilgae.

Before moving further it is equally important to answer why there’s a sudden need to switch over to biofuels? Biofuels have been around for centuries, the first one being a solid biofuel that mankind has used at large i.e. wood. But with the advent of fossil fuels like coal, petroleum etc. biofuels went into oblivion. Not to stay there for long but to comeback again in a changed and a more developed form. Thus came into being biodiesel, bioethanol, biogas etc. The need came about due to severe oil crisis in the 1970s and the alarming problem of global warming being caused by burning of fossil fuels.

As biofuels started their journey, all was good but gradually the problems surfaced. They were with no doubt, a boon to mankind and the whole encompassing environment. Reduction in greenhouse gases was and is the need of the hour in order to save our planet and biofuels did provide a little solution to this big issue. Biofuels like biodiesel are being used in Europe extensively and it has shown good results too. It did result in lowering the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Biofuels like biodiesel is obtained from plants of jatropha, rapeseed, coconut and oil palm. Bioethanol is derived from wheat, sugar cane, sugar beet, corn, molasses etc. The advocates of biofuel also pointed out how helpful they are in addressing the energy crisis looming large over the countries. They also pointed out towards the large profits that can be earned through production of biofuel which will develop newer markets for the countries rich in biofuels. But, all this at the cost of what and whom?

As a result, controversies emerged about the use and production of biofuels. It was found that biofuels produced a more dangerous greenhouse gas – nitrous oxide – than carbon dioxide. Consequently, it was more damaging to the environment. It was also learned later that “the production of biofuels consumes more energy than it yields and they weren’t sustainable enough to replace fossil fuels.” As is known biofuels are derivatives of food products such as coconut, oil palm etc. so critics have rightly expressed concern regarding inflated prices of other  food products whose production will be overlooked in order to make profit from biofuel production and other related issues. The OECD report of 2007 states this quite clearly as it says “biofuels could starve an enormous number of people considering its effect on food prices and low purchasing power of many people in the world.”

Thus, biofuels are more harmful than beneficial to mankind and the environment at large. It is indeed important that we take steps to save our environment and planet but not at the cost of humans, animals and plants. And not just to satisfy our economical ends ignoring the larger picture, as in the end it would do no good to anyone.

Anumeha Saxena

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