Biofuels – Are they a Valid Alternative?

Many great things are being said about Biofuels – where they are depicted as ‘the solution’ to traditional carbon polluting oil. When hearing the word ‘biofuels’ – picturesque images pop up in one’s mind of beautiful corn, soya and sugar cane fields.

It’s plants, it’s green, and generates anywhere between 50 to 90% less carbon dioxide when being used than gasoline – so it must be good, right?

Let us investigate what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ – meaning – ‘how are these biofuels produced’ – to get an idea of the implications of replacing our current oil consumption with new ‘green fuel’.


First, we’ll have a look at the manner in which corn is processed to become a usable fuel:

-          First, the corn is ground and mixed with water
-          This mixture gets heated
-          Added enzymes convert the starch into sugars
-          Then, the mix gets transferred into a fermentation tank
-          In the fermentation tank the sugars gradually transform into alcohol
-          The alcohol gets separated from the water by a process of distillation
-          The leftover which are known as “distillers’ grain” are fed o the cows
-          Some of the wastewater being high in nitrogen are applied to fields as fertilizers

This whole process gives off large amount of carbon dioxide. Most ethanol plants (=biofuel) make use of natural gas and coal to create the heat and steam which is necessary for the process of distillation.

The growing of corn also uses up a lot of natural gas and diesel. This is because in the planting and growing process of corn nitrogen fertilizers and farm machineries are used – which run on diesel. Some studies even reveal that the amount of carbon dioxides released during the process of creating ethanol pretty much cancel out the later ‘carbon dioxide reduction’ through replacing oil with ethanol as an energy source.

If this isn’t already bad enough, considering the rising prices of corn crops which give incentive to farmers to expand their production -- there’s as much as 35 million acres of marginal farmland which was actually set aside for soil and wildlife conservation which will be used for corn production for farmers. This may potentially cause an increase in the release of more carbon in fallow fields. Corn is also a highly erosive crop which means a lot of time and energy will have to be placed in rehabilitating the soil.

Furthermore, we are directing food crops towards an energy consuming industry and society while everyday 25 000 people die (of which most are under 5!) of hunger – which is completely unacceptable. In addition, we cannot simply shift our dependence from oil to ethanol as current and future climate changes may very well undermine this type of agricultural activity. The soya story goes much the same way, although is maybe a bit less disastrous.

Sugar Cane

Brazil seems to have had some success in using sugar cane as medium for biofuels.

Unlike corn, sugar cane already contains 20% of sugar in an entire sugarcane stalk, and it already start to ferment the moment it has been cut. Sugar cane fields also yield much higher rates of ethanol per acre compared to corn: 600 – 800 gallons an acre, which is almost twice as much as corn. In general sugar care seems to have much higher and better benefits than corn – though again, it is not without its implications and side-effects.

Most Brazilian cane is cut by hand. Although this type of labour is well paid, the conditions are hot and extremely strenuous to the back. To facilitate the cutting by hand of the cane fields, the fields are mostly burned before harvesting to kill any looming snakes and to make the canes easier to cut. This process fills the air up with soot while releasing methane as well as nitrous dioxide – which are both potent greenhouse gases.

Similarly as with corn, as biofuels will boom and thus the prices as well – this will push farmers to take up more land. This in turn will drive cattlemen deeper into territory such as the Amazon and the ‘cerrado’ (biologically diverse savannahs). So even though all these biofuels are deemed as ‘clean’ and ‘environmental friendly’ – the process behind their creation tells us quite a different story.

Replacing oil with any other ‘alternative energy source’ is always going to end up in a disaster at this point. We simply cannot replace oil with any other fuel at the rate that we are producing and consuming things. The rate at which we are producing, consuming and creating waste, is so disproportionate in relation to the resources available on Earth – that we’re always going to end up with some undesirable consequence that we want to ‘fix’ – but won’t be able to fix. The problem is not the fuel/energy source itself – it’s us humans and our ridiculous obsession with consumption and greed. As long as we do not fix the core problem – which is us – we’re not going to get anywhere (except maybe our own annihilation as a race and the destruction of our home planet).

Times is running out and we must decide NOW, act NOW. We must consider an alternative socio-political and economical system within which we live our lives. We must design and implement a system that is in total balance and equilibrium with planet Earth, nature and all its living beings. The Equal Money System is this new system. It is the only way through which we are going to be able to sort out this mess and ensure a safe and secure future for the children to come.

It’s time to let go of our greed, it’s time to let go of our self-interested obsessions and start considering Life as a whole. You can play a part in this transformation for a better life and future. Investigate Equal Money and let your voice be heard!

National Geographic Magazine, October 2007, “Green Dreams”, pp 38


Sabine Jäger said...

I live in Germany - Nordrhein Westfalen. Here are a lot of corn fields - and biofuel is produced with it. There is also a large food industry - pork breeding. The farmers who breed the porks for the food industry need the corn fields to fertilize it with the pork shit - and there is a lot of competition between the farmers if there is any land or space available which can be used as a field. The number of fields - or land the farmer owns, determines the number of porks he can breed = the amount of money/profit the farmer can make. Definetely not a cycle which is good for all.

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