Biofuels represent an answer, a piece of a larger puzzle in alternative energy.
Right now, the United States is dependent upon petroleum, and petroleum prices are not stable. This can wreak havoc on our economy. And no matter how much oil is produced domestically, petroleum prices are dictated by world supplies. The bottom line is that we will never be energy-independent when it comes to petroleum. We need to diversify our energy portfolio to limit risk and volatility.
Biofuels are home-grown, so every time we fill our vehicle with them, the money goes to local farmers and companies instead of overseas. There are those who discount biofuels because a certain amount of fossil fuel is required to make them — such as the farm equipment and factories involved. Yet with fossil fuels, one has to factor in the subsidies going to the oil industry, as well as the substantial hidden costs related to protecting our overseas, fossil-fuel interests (like wars in the Middle East).
There is also considerable national-security risk in having our military dependent on foreign oil. That is why top military brass are fully behind developing green energies that we can control, including biofuels.
Biofuels come out ahead of fossil fuels in terms of having lower carbon emissions. Unlike fossil fuels, which release carbon that has been buried for millions of years, biofuels consist of carbon that has been taken out of the air by plants. When biofuels are burned, it releases carbon that was taken out of the atmosphere in the first place.
Moreover, as our energy infrastructure becomes less fossil fuel-based, farms and factories will turn to wind and solar power, and the carbon footprint of biofuels will be reduced further.
Biofuels are just one part of the alternative energy puzzle. We hear a lot about other forms of alternative energy, such as wind and solar. Yet semi trucks, jet airplanes and ships cannot run on electricity from wind and solar. Those modes of transportation can be powered by sustainable and near carbon-neutral biofuels.
No matter how you have been influenced to think about global warming by those who deny the science, there is a large and growing body of evidence showing that burning fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. Not acting now to reduce carbon emissions could cost the nation trillions of dollars in cleaning up related storms, floods and droughts. It makes economic sense to mitigate the causes now, and not leave it to our children and grandchildren to pay the piper.
While one can argue about how quickly temperatures will go up, given the continuing substantial increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, it is not a question of “if” there will be catastrophic consequences, it is a matter of “when.” Climate change is like a locomotive that is hard to stop, so humanity would be well advised to slow the climate-change train now before it is too late.
Biofuels are part of a long-term solution, but they need to be embraced now for that solution to work.
John Sedbrook is an associate professor of genetics at Illinois State University. He is also a participant in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC), one of a series of national biological research centers.