How Can Biofuels Help Reduce Global Warming?
It is a well-known fact that fossil fuels are the main contributors towards the production of greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide. Therefore, it is regarded as the main culprit behind the prevalent issue of global warming.
Nowadays, biofuels are being increasingly used all over the world to fight against this environmental issue. Biofuels are typically described as the fuels that are produced directly or indirectly from organic material known as biomass, which includes both plant materials and animal waste. The main reason for producing biofuels is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which in turn will help to mitigate the effects of global warming, produced by fossil fuels.
The basic principle behind biofuels is similar to that of fossil fuels, where the energy is stored in the form of hydrocarbons. However, unlike the fossil fuels, biofuels have the potential to neutralize the carbon being produced. This means that the loss of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (caused by burning them) is balanced by the absorption of carbon dioxide by the plants during their growth.
This creates a balance between the absorption and production of carbon dioxide, which means that the burning of biofuels does not cause an overall increase in the levels of greenhouse gas (GHG), carbon dioxide. Therefore, it would not wrong to say that biofuels ultimately have the potential to prevent global warming. This would be extremely beneficial especially if the biofuels, being a renewable source, could eventually replace fuels like gasoline and diesel.
Biofuels are mainly used for transport. This is important in the fight against climate change because, worldwide, transport is responsible for producing about 20% of carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, carbon dioxide emissions from transport have experienced the highest growth of any energy-intensive sector. It is estimated that by 2030, carbon emissions from transport will be 80 per cent higher than the current levels. Therefore, biofuels are seen as a great chance to fight the rapid increase in greenhouse gases, which will ultimately increase global warming.
Plants use carbon dioxide to grow and produce food. This means that plants are able to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and thus decrease global warming. Biofuels, when produced from plants, can balance their CO2 production since they use carbon dioxide gas during growth. In The idea is that if there is a one-to-one short, since the gas produced is the same as the gas taken in, therefore, there is no net impact on global warming. Unfortunately, the entire problem lies in achieving that one-to-one ratio, which may be impossible.
Although, the future of biofuels sound quite promising, however, there are also a number of problems that have been associated with its production, which can significantly change the carbon balance sheet. We need to understand that biofuels, if produced in a correct way, can greatly reduce GHG emissions. Otherwise, they can increase these emissions drastically.
Firstly, biofuel crops require fertilisers and pesticides which are specifically made from oil. Moreover, the machinery that is used to grow, transport and process the crop is also powered by fossil fuel. A number of forests are also being cut down to grow biofuel crops. This results in the loss of natural "carbon sinks", which are extremely essential in fighting against climate change and eventually global warming.
It is a common knowledge that the growth of crops require a lot of energy especially during the process of planting seeds, tilling and preparing the ground, and importing water and nutrients. This clearly shows that if we take into account the amount of greenhouse gases being produced during the crop production process and include the carbon dioxide being produced from burning the crop, then you will be shocked to know that there is more CO2 being produced than being removed from the atmosphere. This creates an imbalance of carbon dioxide in atmosphere, which ultimately leads to global warming.
The other problem is that the land is being extensively cleared to grow biofuel, which results in more carbon being produced, during the clearing of the land itself. This could in turn result in carbon debt which according to an estimation can take up to 500 years to pay back.
Owing to these reasons many companies are looking for an alternative source of producing biofuel such as algae. In the production of algae, these companies are looking for an opportunity to invest energy only in the form of sunlight. Although, there is still a net energy input, but the utilization of algae in the production of biofuel and the production of algae itself ensure that no greenhouse gas is produced. This results in an appreciable decrease in global warming.
If the above mentioned problems can be overcome, then the net impact of biofuels on the environment can be limited. In such cases, the GHG emissions and impact on global warming will definitely be far lower with biofuels than with fossil fuels. However, the overall feasibility of biofuel production is yet to be determined.