Biofuel |


Biofuel is fuel derived from recently-deceased lifeforms (mainly plants). This is different from fossil fuels such as oil and gas, which derive from long-dead lifeforms.

Major sources of biofuel are: cane sugar, sugar beet, corn/maize, palm oil, fats and soya bean. One of the major criticisms of biofuel production is that it prioritises production for fuel over production for food. In other words people go hungry so others can fuel their homes and cars.
Recent stories of people running their diesel-engined cars on chip fat or vegetable oil are examples of DIY biofuel use. It works but if you leave the bits in the chip fat it does clog up the engine! Brazil is a major generator and consumer of biofuels for cars. In their case they use cane sugar to mass produce ethanol on a national scale. With recent legislation, ethanol is becoming a significant constituent of petrol worldwide with increasing use in USA and Europe.
Because of the problems that occur when using major food sources for fuel a lot of research and development is going into the use of non-food sources, such as the cellulose parts of plants, rather than the oil, fruit or seeds. People can't digest cellulose so it is not a human food source. We’re talking about the stalks, leaves, bark etc. Looking perhaps further ahead, there is research going into the use of algae to produce biofuels.
Biofuels have some great advantages over fossil fuels: they tend to be renewable and biodegradable. They also have some great disadvantages. We've already mentioned the tendency to prioritise fuel production over food production but to produce the enormous amounts of fuel the world currently requires would mean turning over huge areas of land to its production. You also then run the risk of constructing monocultures which could be extremely vulnerable to the development and spread of diseases which might then threaten the world's fuel source.

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