- We need a replacement for oil, if not now, then not far in the future.
- Biofuel is less polluting than fossil fuel because carbon is absorbed while the plants grow, which offsets the carbon that is produced when the biofuel is burned.
- Biofuel can be produced and used locally, unlike oil which typically must be shipped long distances and refined in central locations.
- The process of producing and refining biofuel is less polluting than oil.
The objections to biofuel are:
- Chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as mechanized farm equipment required to produce biofuel and trucks to transport it, all use a lot of oil - meaning that biofuel is not "carbon neutral."
- Fields are being diverted for biofuel crops, which is contributing to the current international food crisis. If biofuel took the place of oil (as proponents hope), the land required would be so great as to cause enormous disruption to the food supply.
- Biofuel crops are leading to deforestation. In the Amazon rain forest, farmers are clearing forest to plant corn that is needed because US corn farmers have converted to biofuel production. In Malaysia, forests are being cleared to grow palm oil that is used in biodiesel.
- Huge government subsidies are required for biofuel; these could be used for more effective environmental programs.
- Biofuel production requires a lot of water (although some claim that the water is cleaned and released as steam which falls locally as rain).
- The main proponents for biofuel are US corn producers and their lobbies, who are interested in their own wealth, not the environment. Politicians who support biofuel are just pandering to an influential lobby.
The case against biofuel has become pretty fierce recently. However, I think we should take a step back. Thirty years ago it was not uncommon to hear similar arguments against solar and wind power: they would never produce as much energy as it took to produce them; they were not reliable enough to put on the energy grid. But technology increased their efficiency and solutions were found for their problems. The same is happening with biofuel: now that money is being poured into the technology, not just in the US and Europe but also in places like China, Brazil and Venezuela, biofuel technology is in a state of rapid change. One day we may get most of our biofuels from waste and sea algae.
The compelling argument for biofuel is that we need a replacement for oil. The cherry on top is that biofuel can be much less polluting than oil. It seems sensible to build this technology, even if it has drawbacks at the moment.