Pros and Cons of Biofuels


Biofuels appear likely to furnish at least some of the world's energy needs. On the plus side:

  • Biofuels are environmentally much cleaner than fossil fuels, producing less air pollution and consuming materials that would otherwise be considered garbage.
  • They are renewable; the supply of biofuels is less likely to run out, while the supply of fossil fuels probably will.
  • They can be made locally using local materials.
  • They can be flexible, easily mixed with other fuels.
  • They can be cheaper than fossil fuels and will certainly become less expensive as the price of fossil fuel rises.
  • Ethanol and biodiesel are better for car engines than fossil fuels. They can be used as additives to improve performance even if they are not the main fuel source.

Bioenergy is less polluting than fossil fuel–produced energy in respect to carbon dioxide. Biofuels contain carbon that only recently was in Earth's atmosphere, so the carbon dioxide released through burning them does not add to total carbon dioxide in the air. Fossil fuels, however, contain carbon that was removed from the atmosphere millions of years ago, and they emit large amounts of extra carbon dioxide when they burn. Replacing some fossil fuels with biofuels may help ease global warming, lessen air pollution, and clean the world's air.

Biofuels are renewable. They come from plants and other currently growing organic material, so it is possible to generate new ones constantly. This makes them more environmentally appealing than fossil fuels, which are, for all practical purposes, not renewable and are even in the process of being depleted.

Biofuels can use waste for feedstocks. For example, waste vegetable oil from fast food restaurants or potato chip factories can be turned into biodiesel. This prevents the waste material from being disposed of in a landfill.

For individual consumers, biofuels can be more or less expensive than fossil fuels depending on how they are used. People who make their own biodiesel using free waste vegetable oil from restaurants spend very little money on fuel, though they do spend a certain amount of time in the pursuit of energy. Wood heat can be less expensive than electrical or gas heat. In the past, purchasing biofuels was usually more expensive than purchasing fossil fuel equivalents. That is changing in the twenty-first century, and more people are finding that biofuels make economic sense.


The downside:

  • Biofuels would require cultivating more land than is currently farmed. This is already considered a major problem.
  • Some kinds of biofuels require modifications to vehicle engines.
  • Biofuels are not widely available.
  • Some biofuels still require the use of fossil fuels; for example, most vehicles must have some gasoline mixed into ethanol to work and cannot run on ethanol alone.

Biofuels may be a contributor of formaldehyde to urban air. Biodiesel fuels are potentially high emitters of nitrogen oxides,which are amajor component of smog. People with respiratory illnesses and small children are most affected by these air pollutants.

Biofuels require large amounts of land to be cultivated and harvested. This can cause major environmental problems, such as habitat destruction and fertilizer runoff. Farmers use large amounts of fossil fuels to grow crops such as corn, which decreases the value of the energy made from those crops. In some cases, producing biofuels such as ethanol actually uses more energy than the ethanol yields.

Most people still know little about biofuels and so do not seek them out. Biofuels are not readily available in many places, so it is difficult for people to use them. Few people want to go to the trouble of making their own biodiesel or modifying their car engines to run on vegetable oil. As biofuels become more commercially available and user-friendly, consumers are likely to adopt them in increasing numbers

Pros and Cons of Biofuels copyright 2011