Food Versus Fuel
By Abigail Wehrbein
Over the last century biofuels progressively have had more of an impact on the way Americans live everyday, to fuel our cars and the U.S economy. Although we have been more fortunate lately with gas prices, there are constant concerns about global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions; so biofuels have been regaining acceptance. Lately they have been taken on by an attack regarding the use of food for fuel. So the question is, can we grow crops for converting into fuel, without upsetting the world’s food supply? My position is yes.
Biofuels are renewable resources because they come from plants that we grow today. They generally use chemical reactions, fermentation, and heat to break down the starches, sugars, and other molecules in the plants. The leftover products are then refined to produce a fuel for transportation. I believe we must use food crops for fuel production. Reducing the need for foreign energy and moving the U.S closer to energy-independence has very important political and social effects.
With increasing agriculture technology, yields have been continuing to rise within the last 40 years. But even if 100% of the corn grown in the U.S were converted to fuel ethanol, this would reduce our gasoline requirement by less than 20%. Now what if we look at other plants for biofuels. By a Minnesota field study, growing inedible crops on an unproductive farmland resulted in the best energy yields. They actually came from the native prairie grasses and not corn or soybeans. Carbon is being stored in these soils and this can improve our CO2 emission by removing them from the atmosphere. Since plants absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, crops grown for biofuels should suck up about as much carbon dioxide as comes out of the tailpipes of cars that burn these fuels.
It has become more essential than ever to start putting a much greater importance on alternative fuels and energy by weaning ourselves off of our heavy dependence on oil and fossil fuels in order to make sure that we will have fuel to use in the future ahead. This is why biofuel energy has become so vitally important to make sure that we have a backup to our current energy shortage.
Photo by Nuffield Council on Bioethics