The harmful effects of biofuels BY BuhlerME10 Biofuels: Mandating Harmful Consequences Energy is the common currency of all living things; something all species need. While plants rely directly on the sun for energy, humans rely on an array of sources like wind, fossil-fuel, water, solar, and more recently biofuels. Of these biofuels, which are fuels obtained directly from living plant matter, ethanol and biodiesel are the most commonly used. These two sources are typically used to fuel cars, trucks, aircraft, and small-engine machines.
Biofuels have garnered much attention because hey are derived from renewable resources like corn and soybeans rather than non- renewable fossil fuels. The main advantage to biofuels has always been that they give off fewer green-house gasses (GHG), particularly carbon,that petroleum-based fuels are notorious for emitting. Analyzing biofuels from an environmental prospective, they seem to be a positive alternative to replacing societys addiction to fossil-fuels. However, the amount of fuel need to produce these crops and the amount of cropland needed to supply a nation with biofuel is often ignored in the comparison.
Besides requiring high input of energy, space, fertilizer, and pesticides, switching our economy to a biofuel reliant one will lead to deforestation??”additional emission of GH6s??”and higher priced food. For these reason, among others, the production of biofuels is harmful to consumers, producers, and the environment. Past studies have concluded that replacing traditional gasoline with biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, would cause a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted into the air.
This aspect is especially important to humanity because many climate and ecosystem experts preach that dangerous climate change is bound o happen when our atmosphere is over 350 ppm (parts per million) carbon. We are currently at 397 ppm. Biofuels appear to be better than petroleum-based fuels because the idea was that the additional plants that would be grown in order to produce this fuel would be able to capture a significant amount of carbon from the air. It has also been shown that some forms of biofuels burn more efficiently than standard gasoline and diesel.
However, these studies did not take into account the amount of carbon emissions that are used to convert grasslands and forests into land that can be used to produce crops. Many fuel burning machines are necessary to remove trees, plow the land, plant the crops, and irrigate the fields that will be used to grow biofuels. A new worldwide agricultural model is able to estimate the emissions caused by land change (Science 319), providing climatologists and economists with the net-release of carbon connected to biofuels.
The results of this model show that rather than reducing the amount of greenhouse emissions, converting land to biofuel-producing cropland will nearly double the amount of emissions over a thirty year period. This increase will surely send the atmosphere eyond what is known as the “tipping point”, when glaciers and ice sheets melt and both the climate and storms become much more intense. The production of biofuel crops will create more dangerous emissions than these fuels will be able to absorb, causing further damage to the environment and thus being a foolish investment. he additional land that will be needed to grow crops will cause great amounts of deforestation. Pablo Pacheco, one of the authors of A global Analysis of Deforestation due to Biofuel Development, says that the I-JK government has plans for increasing cropland for biofuel production as well as many other nations. In the I-JK these plans will include a minimum of 110,000 hectares of new plantations. This would be the equivalent of about 300,000 acres of deforested land in one country alone.
Apart from the fact that this large amount of land would be very costly and polluting to convert to farmland, this is a very significant amount of land that is being deforested. If these kinds of decisions to destroy land in order to produce biofuel continue across the globe the results will undoubtedly have some negative results. These negative results will obviously include the destruction of grassland regions as well as forests. One of the most dramatic impacts this would have is the loss of a large portion of the habitats for a great number of defenseless animals.
This worldwide deforestation is causing a countless number of species to lose the environment in which they live, and is causing many of them to become extinct. Deforestation also drives climate change. The trees and other plants that will be destroyed as a result of this land change are huge contributors in the elimination of greenhouse gasses that are causing global warming. If the mandating of biofuel production continues to grow nd destroy forests and grassland the environment will continue to suffer the consequences.
Yet another negative result of growing crows for biofuels, to no one’s surprise, is a great increase in water use. It is well known that biofuels are made from plants, and it is even better known that plants require water in order to grow. This is why it is not surprising at all that an increase in the amount of crops needed to create fuel sources is a very serious potential drawback of plant based fuels. The water demands of some biofuel producing crops could put unsustainable pressure on local water resources if not managed wisely.
This problem is magnified even more because corn is one of the main crops used to produce these fuels because corn is a crop that requires substantially more water in order to grow. On average, one bushel of corn will require between 2,500 and 4,000 gallons of water in order to grow. That is about twice the amount of water required for wheat and about three times more than needed for soybeans. Because these additional crops will need so much additional water it is foreseeable that water supplies might become under a great amount of strain in order to keep up with such a high demand for mandated biofuel crops.
According to a study found in the April 1 5th edition of Environmental Science and Technology each individual gallon of ethanol produced may require up to more than 2,100 gallons of water in order to be produced in its entirety. These numbers may vary slightly depending on regional irrigation practices but they are shocking nonetheless. This source also states that “Annual production of bioethanol currently sits about 9 billion gallons a year, but many experts expect this number to rise, sparking concerns over water usage in the production process, particularly in areas where there are already water shortages.
Because this amount of additional water is already negatively impacting areas in need of water there is no doubt that raising the amount of biofuels produced will continue these trends. The more crops that are immeasurably large amount of water that could be put to much better use. Not only does the production of biofuel crops damage the environment by causing deforestation and waste a substantial amount of water, it also creates pollution because of the fertilizers used to grow the crops.
The problem of fertilizers causing environmental problems is relevant with all types of crops but the addition of crops pecifically for biofuels increases the pollution greatly. Most fertilizers contain nitrogen and phosphorus. While both of these additives allow for crops to grow more rapidly they also can cause some serious environmental damage. The continual use of these chemicals can leave excess fertilizer in the soil. Because this fertilizer is left behind after the plants are harvested it remains only to be washed away by rain and is carried into rivers, streams, and lakes.
According to Matt Cunningham, writer of the article “Disadvantages of Biofuels” phosphorus is known for acting as a trigger for ertain species of algae to grow. Once the algae is able to grow, other tiny aquatic plants feed off it and are able to rapidly produce. These invasive plants then result in the killing of other natural plant and animal species by greatly reducing the amount of oxygen in the water. Also according to this author, nitrogen found in drinking water, as a result of this over-fertilization can lead to many health problems.
The most prominent of these is methemoglobinemia, which is a condition that prevents infants from utilizing oxygen in their blood. With a very carefully planned method of ertilizer application some of these pollution problems, but expanding biofuel production to meet some fuel demands will increase the chances and the severity of these problems. Of all the problems that biofuels can cause, possibly the one that will affect people as consumers the most is the fact that food prices have and will continue to rise.
Biofuel production using food crops such as corn, soybeans, and even sorghum has the potential to drastically alter the world’s access to affordable food. It is the simple laws of supply and demand that dictate when demand rises, price rises also. The increase in production of biofuels means that there is a much greater demand for crops such as corn and soybeans. Because of the additional demand for these crops their prices inevitably rise as well.
According to Rosamond Naylor of the Environment Editorial the rising cost of corn and other crops “can pose a threat to some regions food security or the access to affordable nutritious food for the region’s population”. However, in some respects the rise in demand for these crops can have a positive effect on farmers. This is because the prices of their crops could rise and they would e able to make more money selling the crops. But those raised prices are inevitable passed down to the consumers. There is no escaping the inflating cost of corn or soybean products simply because of their use in such a wide variety of foods and other products.
It is not only the prices of vegetables and other crops that rise because of this. It can be found in nearly every type of food product. This can be illustrated by an imaginary farmer. This farmer raises both dairy cows as well as beef steers. Because he now has to pay more money for the corn that he uses to feed all f his cows, the products that are created by the cows will all have to be increased as a result. This means that every product that contains any forms of beef or dairy and many other products in between. This shows how raising the production of only a nearly every type of food product.
While there are some people in the world who are wealthy enough to cope with these raised prices, the vast majority of people find these prices to be an unwelcome change. As for the billions of people in the world who live on only a few dollars a day, even the smallest increase in food prices could ut their access to proper nutrition at risk. There are many people in the world that are already dying of hunger and if the price of food continues to rise it is likely that the number of people starving will continue to increase.
For the amount of good that comes from biofuel production, if any, it is not nearly worth what it will cost consumers in the long run. Apart from the negative effects that biofuels can have on the environment as well as consumers, possibly the most straightforward disadvantage of biofuels is the most obvious. Most of the cars on the road today are designed with engines that run trictly on petroleum based fuel. Putting ethanol or biodiesel in a car that is built to run on standard gasoline or regular diesel will understandably cause the engines of the cars to operate differently.
Corn based ethanol has a higher density than gasoline. This change in density can put strain on the fuel injection systems of cars and can lead to damages that will result in costly auto repairs. According to Scott Tsuneishi author of E85 vs. Conventional Gasoline – Tech Knowledge, “Alcohol based fuels, including ethanol, can corrode or damage some of the metal and rubber ittings used in gasoline powered engines. ” All of these damages that can be caused strictly from using a biofuel such as ethanol might lead consumers to believe that fueling a car with E85 might not be worth it after all.
Biodiesel does not yield much better results. According to the same source, biodiesel produces a more oily substance that petroleum fuels which can make it very difficult to start an engine containing biodiesel in sub-freezing temperatures. This can cause great problems, especially in regions of the world that experience harsh winters. There are solutions o these problems but usually they require replacing parts if not entire engines, which can cost thousands of dollars.
Most drivers would rather not have to pay these large amounts of money simply to accommodate a new type of fuel. This is yet another reason that biofuels do not come close to being worth the problems that they cause. The crops that are grown in order to produce biofuels are no different from other plants. This is to say that they will be able to grow better in different regions and worse in others. While biofuel crops such as corn and soybeans have proven to be uite resilient, the most productive of these crops simply won’t be able to grow everywhere.
Just as oranges will never be able to be a productive crop in Wisconsin, corn and other biofuel crops won’t be able to produce their best yield in some regions of the world. Corn for example, is able to be best grown in the midwestern and western parts of the United States and will not be able to produce as plentiful crops in coastal or tropical areas. People that live in the regions that can’t grow these crops as efficiently will not have as easy of access to biofuels as people that do. This eans that if they are to be able to use biofuels, the fuel must be shipped to them.
To ship these fuels it would require the implementation of pipelines or trucks to transport that large amount of fuel. This would be very costly and as a result would altogether. There will always be regions in the world that can’t support the production of biofuel crops, and this is yet another reason that the production of biofuels is not able to be effective. There are many reasons why the production of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are negative and even harmful. Their production results in deforestation, ollution, raised food prices, and in fact a greater amount of produces emissions.
The fact that they are slightly cleaner burning than petroleum based fuels is irrelevant because in order to produce biofuels a greater amount of emissions will be created. Biofuels are harmful to the environment as well as the consumers that they are supposed to support. They are being produced in a positive effort to reduce emissions and pollution but are instead creating more problems than they are resolving. Something must be done to decrease the amount of greenhouse emissions, but mandating the production of harmful biofuels is not the answer.