Are Biofuels Our Future?

Biofuels are a hot topic amongst those in the know at the moment, especially as they offer a more sustainable and carbon-neutral alternative to the traditional fuels. The automotive industry is abuzz with talk of biofuels, but so is the big technology and sustainability community. And there’s a good reason for that.

By Giles Kirkland

This type of fuel can be created from a range of different materials, from algae and ethanol to fats, grease and vegetable oils. Currently, ethanol is arguably the most popular biofuel, although that’s likely to change in the coming years. The biggest part of it (96%) is processed from the starch in corn kernels, and the US and Brazil are by far the two largest producers, creating 84% of the world’s ethanol in 2018. With that said, US ethanol production has dropped to a six-year low, perhaps because of the rising demand for other biofuel solutions.

Algae-Based Biofuels

In particular, algae-based biofuels are showing a huge amount of potential, largely because research shows that it’s able to produce 10-300 times as much fuel per acre than other biofuel crops. That’s not just a minor increase – that’s enough to revolutionise biofuel production for good. It could even be enough to make biofuels the main power source for vehicles from across the globe. Imagine what an impact that could have on our emissions.

And the good news is that the industry is growing rapidly as a whole. With the biodiesel industry hitting a production total of one billion gallons in 2011, two billion in 2015 and 2.8 billion as of 2019, it’s also showing no signs of slowing down. We can expect it to keep on growing, if not exponentially then steadily at the very least.

Leading algae-based providers include Solazyme and Martek, the latter of which is supported by fossil fuel veterans BP. This illustrates a quandary that has some people worried – is it still environmentally ethical to buy biofuel from a company that’s made a business from unsustainable energy sources?

The thing to remember is that not only is Martek one of the best biofuels, but also you’ll be voting with your dollars to usher in a more sustainable and green future. If fuel manufacturers find out that there’s more money in biofuel than in regular gasoline, they’ll switch their priorities – and we have the power to make that happen.

Why the “Drawbacks” Aren’t Really Drawbacks

long lines of green farm beds under a blue sky

One of the biggest criticisms that we’ve seen of biofuels is that it takes a lot of land to create a sufficient yield to generate large amounts of fuel. That may be fair enough for older, first-gen biofuels, but with the newer, algae-based biofuels working at up to 300x greater levels of efficiency, this goes from being a criticism to one of its strengths.

Another argument against biofuels is that there’s a danger that the rising demand for soybeans could lead to accelerated deforestation as more land is converted to farming land. The naysayers argue that by seeking out more environmentally-friendly types of fuel, we could end up doing more damage to the environment.

The problem with this is that no studies have been able to show a meaningful link between the two. On top of that, it’s a similar argument that’s used against veganism, with people saying that soy grown for tofu is leading to deforestation. It turns out that 70% of soybean is fed to animals, 6% is turned into human food, and the remainder is turned into soybean oil, and not all of that is used to create biofuels.

Ultimately, most arguments against biofuels tend to be either deliberately one-sided or grounded in the past, when production methods weren’t as efficient as they are today. Better still, both for the industry and for the end consumer, the technology is still evolving over time, and at a much more rapid pace than the traditional fuel industry. In the next ten years, as the demand for greener energy soars and AI and robotics continue to drive efficiencies, the naysayers and the laggards will have no choice but to adapt or to get left behind.

What’s next?

Knowing a little bit more about biofuels, you can do more research of your own and support the green fuel initiatives, whether you’re interested in a biofuel generator or want to convert a vehicle to run on algae biofuel. One of the fascinating things about biofuels is that there are almost as many applications as there are potential fuel sources.

This means that we can expect plenty more innovation in the years to come, especially as we increasingly search for more renewable sources of energy. Getting to know biofuels now will give you a head start and save you a bunch of time in the future. And if you play your cards right, it’ll save some money too.

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