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Page added on February 27, 2007

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Biofuels can replace oil

Biofuels and biomass programs are touted as a major solution to the problem of America’s addiction to petroleum by allowing us to grow carbon-neutral fuel domestically. Can fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol offset the huge amount of energy that our economy and lifestyle demands? Some even say it takes more energy to make these biofuels than the amount of energy you get out of them.

Well, the last one is wrong. A comprehensive look shows that for every one unit of energy you put into growing the soy bean to crushing the oil to converting it to biodiesel, you get 2.2 back out. Ethanol has a lower return of about 1.2, but it is still a positive return. This article will take a closer look at these biofuels and offer solutions that are in the works.

The overall question still remains, is there enough land to grow traditional crops to provide for the current energy consumption? The answer is no. Reducing consumption is the first thing on the list. Through moderation a balance of developing our waste streams will be key to a successful biofuels future. We have to push for multi-feedstock biodiesel plants that produce fuel from vegetable oil waste locally, diversification of our farming to include crop rotations and development of more oil-seed extraction facilities, including incentives for farmers and research in future crops to combine waste streams such as algae (which grows far faster than terrestrial plants and is used as wastewater treatment to remove nutrient pollution).

We must also look at other ways of using biomass. Anaerobic digestion of agricultural wastes to create methane and direct burning of biomass for energy requires far fewer hurdles in technology. Decentralized cogeneration heat and power systems not only convert biomass into electricity, but harness the heat created for water and radiant heating and, through tri-generation, even cooling in homes and businesses in the surrounding area.

The Netherlands are catching on to the efficiencies of systems such as this and in Canada, they are beginning to investigate growing crops of switchgrass for burning, not fermentation.

John Benemann puts it quite well, “The advantages of biofuels and other solar and renewable energy sources is that they will be limited, and will be expensive; we will need to use them frugally instead of wasting them wantonly, like we do with fossil fuels.”

Daily Aztec

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