Bio-fuels: Not the Perfect Solution

739391836_3b72821676.jpgWith crude oil prices rising and rumors of oil production being peaked, bio-fuels, until recently, seemed to be a viable option. They were also seen as a clean source of energy since they were believed to emit lesser carbon-di-oxide.

The European Union planned to gradually use bio-fuels in small percentages along with crude oil to reduce the burgeoning demand of the latter. With demand for fuel increasing every year, the developed countries’ demand for bio-fuel was met through imports from developing countries.

An increasing number of plants which yield bio-fuel thus became a profitable business, as the costs of production were subsidized and demands were ever-increasing. Slowly, the negative impact of use of bio-fuels started coming to light.

Firstly, the land which was used to grow agricultural crops was now being replaced by bio-fuel crops as it was more profitable. If this wasn’t the case, then it was forest land which was cleared for the bio-fuel crops. The former started the decline in production of food grains which has resulted in a critical situation mainly for the Asian and African countries.

The food grain stocks have reached an all time low, many countries have their imports doubled and a few countries which were grain rich have freezed exports. Clearing forests and growing bio-fuel crops there led to more carbon-di-oxide emissions, thus defeating the underlying purpose of using a green fuel altogether.

Given these experiences, the European Union has insisted on use of only those bio-fuels, which emit lesser carbon-di-oxide during their growth process and combustion combined, than that produced in the combustion of petroleum oil.

Many people believe there is an easier way: by producing bio-fuels, not from crops themselves, but from crop wastes – if transport fuel can be manufactured from straw or grass or wood chips, there are no implications for land use, and hence no danger of spreading hunger.

But it was eventually realized that there was actually no crop ‘waste’. These ‘wastes’ were essential natural nutrients for the soil. Removing crop wastes meant replacing them with fertilizers, which caused further emission of greenhouse gases!

All these ventures have masked out the zeal to work towards the real solution. The only solution being reduction in the consumption of transport fuel. The political courage too seems to have peaked out some time ago regarding this vital issue.

Nanda Kishore

[Image Courtesy: mwboeckmann]