Friendly Fuel?

Biofuel-Aug-10-BlogToday, August 10th, is International Biodiesel day, so many happy returns! Now, being interested in environmental matters, this got me thinking about biofuels. Are they good or bad for the environment and are they a better alternative to fossil fuels which we all know are causing global warming? Well let’s find out…

The main benefit of biofuels over fossil fuels is that burning them puts less of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. It’s all to do with the carbon cycle. Everything living, whether plant or animal, is made up of carbon. When they die that carbon is recycled by decomposition and re-enters the environment as carbon dioxide. This is then used by plants to create energy via photosynthesis.

In biofuels the plants, or products derived from them, are burned and the carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere once more. That may sound bad but it’s not really. The carbon is constantly recycled and if the plants were not used as fuel they would be eaten by animals and the carbon dioxide would then be breathed out into the air.

Smoke-from-Powerstation-Aug-10Fossil fuels are much worse. Oil, gas and coal all contain carbon that was extracted from the atmosphere millions of years ago by plants or animals but it was never released as these did not decay – instead they were fossilised. When we burn fossil fuels we are putting more carbon dioxide into the air than is in the current carbon cycle and this is what is causing the greenhouse effect.

So then, biofuels are good for the environment aren’t they? Not really. You see, in order to meet our requirements for biofuel we must grow more crops in addition to the ones we are already growing for food. This inevitably means clearing more of the Earth’s natural habitats to make way for farms.

Biofuels are much better than fossil fuels but they are not environmentally-friendly. The best that we can do is try to cut down our fuel consumption by using less electricity and travelling on public transport or by bike more often. This Greenpeace blog puts the point much better than I could.

If you’d like to learn more about biofuels then we have a GCSE Biology quiz all about them. See if you can score 10-out-of-10!

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