The student newspaper of, by, and for Ames High School.

The WEB

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The student newspaper of, by, and for Ames High School.

The WEB

The student newspaper of, by, and for Ames High School.

The WEB

Biofuelsplanning for a promising future

Faced with a growing global demand for a finite energy supply as well as a deteriorating environment, our world is caught in a tricky dilemma. As a result, people have been turning to biofuels as a possible way out. Biofuels are fuels produced using biomass, which includes plants, animals, and their by-products. The two most common types of biofuel are ethanol, which is made mainly from corn, and biodiesel, consisting of soybeans and other oilseed crops. Iowa, with its vast crop fields, is naturally one of the leaders in biofuel production. The benefits and effects of biofuel production are still widely debated, however. All Americans, especially Iowans, should be aware of the ongoing discussion. After all, biofuel production has the potential to revolutionize the energy industry. Currently the key question is: Are biofuels sustainable? Biofuels are only beneficial if they can provide a maintainable alternative to fossil fuels, or else we will be back where we started, dependent on a diminishing energy source. Advocates of biofuel production praise biofuels as being a renewable energy source. Unlike fossil fuels, they will not eventually run out. In addition, biofuels release lower carbon emissions. However, fossil fuels are used in various steps in the production of biofuels. This includes fuels consumed by farm machinery in land preparation, planting, tending, irrigation, harvesting, storage, and transport; fossil feedstocks for chemical inputs such as herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers; and energy required for processing the crop into a usable biofuel. The amount depends on the particular form of biomass and the production method. “My concern with biofuels is that people might use them more and more and eventually damage the environment as much as or even more than if they stayed with using fossil fuels. Biofuels must be used with moderation in order for them to be sustainable,” Senior Linda Shi said. One major drawback of biofuel production is that it would compete with crop production, thereby raising food prices. Farmers are already changing their planting habits in order to take advantage of the opportunities in the ethanol industry. This spring the total corn acreage in the United States increased by 19% since last year, reported the United States Department of Agriculture. If resourceful means of production are used, it is theoretically possible for the world to produce enough biofuels to supplement fossil fuels and feed everyone. The conflict between food and fuel could be alleviated since biofuels can be produced from plants and plant residues that would otherwise be unused. By only using agricultural residues, the United States could produce 40 billion gallons of ethanol a year. Land degradation and water scarcity are likely results from intense biofuel production. Bioenergy crops pose a particular challenge for good soil management because the plant material is often completely harvested. This removes valuable plant residues that help sustain soil productivity and structure and avoid erosion. To improve the sustainability of biofuels, scientists are working on new technologies. It is possible to breed biomass crops that are more efficient and yield much higher amounts of energy per hectare or unit of water. Another option is to develop and grow biomass on marginal land that doesn’t support crop growth. Also, it is beneficial to invest in increasing the productivity of the food crops themselves or breed varieties of food crops that generate larger amounts of residues that can be turned into biofuel. The current answer to the question mentioned is not a simple yes or no. It’s closer to a vague “maybe.” The topic of biofuels is controversial and many improvements to biofuel production will have to be made before biofuels can provide a beneficial alternative to fossil fuels. Even after these improvements have been made, the use of biofuels will most likely still have drawbacks. However, the future is promising.

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