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Are biofuels the answer to the energy question?

For use with Talking Point worksheets

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Are biofuels the answer to the energy question?

Postby TalkingPoint » Fri May 02, 2008 4:49 am

Where do biofuels come from?

Allegedly the fuels of the future and a green alternative to traditional fossil fuels, biofuels are made from plants such as sugar cane and maize (or corn) and oil-rich plants like palms and soya beans. They can be used on their own or mixed with conventional fuels such as petrol.

What are the advantages of biofuels?

Biofuels have been hailed as the environmentally-friendly answer to the energy crisis because it is said that they are much ‘greener’ than the fuels we have been burning to produce energy in recent history. For example, coal and petrol. Biofuels are alleged to be carbon-neutral which means that the quantity of carbon dioxide they produce when burnt to produce energy is only equal to, and not greater than, the amount of CO2 they use up while growing. So their carbon-footprint is exemplary. Traditional fossil fuels, on the other hand, produce a lot of carbon dioxide during combustion and so leave a very large carbon-footprint, polluting the atmosphere. Some say that a quarter of global greenhouse emissions can be blamed on transport exhaust fumes.

What are the disadvantages of biofuels?

There is a school of scientific thought which states that biofuels are not as green as we think. It has been pointed out that in farming these bio-fuel-producing plants tractors are needed to plough the fields and harvest the crops; chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides etc. need to be applied to the plants and, once harvested, the crops need to be processed in factories before the end product can be distributed by transporting it to the customer. Some people go as far as to say that certain biofuels require more energy to be produced than they are capable of producing!

Another disadvantage, according to some, is that huge tracts of land are needed to produce the crops for biofuels. This can threaten the amount of land available for food production. If there is less land being cultivated for food purposes then the price of food itself may be affected. Food prices may rise.

Summary

In theory it isn’t so strange to entertain the idea of cars running on plant or animal oil. It is perhaps surprising to discover that motor-car pioneers like Henry Ford actually designed cars which could run on fuel made from plants. In fact the only reason they didn’t take off was apparently because the oil available from the Middle East was much cheaper in those days than the bio-alternative! Nowadays, however, the situation has altered and ‘driven’ engineers in the motor industry to research the bio-alternatives once more in search of the answer to the fuel question: what can we use instead of fossil fuels?

Quick Quiz: Read the clues below and write the solutions on a piece of paper. Then take the first letter of each answer and rearrange them to find the hidden word connected with this Talking Point.

1. Biofuels have been hailed as the __________ answer to the energy crisis.

2. Some say that a quarter of __________ greenhouse emissions can be blamed on transport exhaust fumes.

3. Some people go as far as to say that certain biofuels __________ energy to be produced than they are capable of producing!

4. Another disadvantage, according to some, is that huge tracts of land are __________ to produce the crops for biofuels.

5. In theory it isn’t so strange to __________ the idea of cars running on plant or animal oil.
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