Article Review Political, Economic and Environmental Impacts of Biofuels A review. Module

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “the earth holds enough resources for every man`s needs but not for every man`s greed” (Magdoff & Foster, 2011, 38). Today, every man`s greed rules supreme. Human beings continue to be greedy as countries scramble for the earth`s mineral resources for economic and financial gains without regard for the future. The repercussions have been disastrous. Today, as a result of environmental pollution and unsustainable practices, over 100 million people both in the developed and developing world are affected. The developing countries suffer the greatest while developed countries are the greatest perpetrators. The US for instance comprises only 5% of the global population but utilizes 25% of the world natural resources and gives out 30% of the global waste. Such facts have called for a new approach towards mother earth. A wide range of environmental conservation measures have been enacted by governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations, communities, schools and individual among others to reverse the situation and conserve the environment in order to sustain life. One of the popular measures is reduced use of fossil fuels in favor of biofuels. Studies have suggested that biofuels are less harmful to the environment. Replacing fossil fuels, which are one of the major pollutants, has a far reaching impact in the world. However, biofuels are costly to produce and less efficient than fossil fuels. Simply put, increased use of biofuels will have far reaching social, economic and political implications in the world as Demirbas seeks to show in the paper “Political, economic and environmental impacts of biofuels: A review.”
Demirbas starts off by saying that the push for biofuels is driven by the desire to develop an alternative cleaner source of energy other than fossil. Other than the desire to care for the environment, the fear for depletion of fossil fuels as nonrenewable energy has driven technology to invent new renewable fuel. Historically, oil producing countries have held the word at ransom by creating temporary shortages by lowering production with an intention on increasing prices. Net oil importers such as the US and China, which are the world`s largest consumers of fossil fuel, have been at the receiving end. Major oil producers such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Nigeria among others have formed a coalition, OPEC whose one major purpose is to ensure that members reap the most from their produce. However, very few new oil reserves have been discovered to boost supply. As such, the fossil fuels face a very uncertain future. Therefore, the fear of oil depletion and better control of a core commodity and better environment responsibility have been the major drivers for the push for biofuels. Any country with arable farmlands can be a producer of biofuels. However, the hopes of a cleaner fuel have not had an impact in the surge in oil and gas explorations especially in African countries. Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have of late been in the global news over newly discovered gas and petroleum reserves (Mitchell, Marcel & Mitchell, 2012).
Technically, biofuels are solid, liquid or gaseous fuels predominantly produced from biomass. The biomass used varies from region to region. The source of the biomass, otherwise known as feedstock determines the processing methods and the final cost. Oil producing crops such as corn are used for production of biofuel. Other plans include sugarcane plantation as a byproduct of sugar processing. However, the production of biofuels competes against production of other products such as cooking oil. One form of biofuel, biodiesels requires little processing. Biodiesels comprise of animal fats or waste cooking oil that can be used directly in engines after slight modification. Alternatively, the oil can be blended with petroleum to increase efficiency. With cooking oil being used as raw material for biodiesels, it means that the cost of biodiesel is prohibitive which makes it an incompetent alternative to fossil fuel. This has also limited its current usage with only 0.2% of all transport globally being fueled by biodiesel.
Despite the high cost, there are certain aspects that make biodiesel a major alternative to fossil fuel. This is because biodiesel is easily available from local biomass sources and thus can be easily replenished, they give out carbon dioxide and water as emissions and they are biodegradable. Compared to fossil fuels biodiesel performs extremely well in terms of harmful emissions. Fossil fuels not only give out harmful emissions but they are not renewable. The overreliance on fossil fuel globally has shifted geopolitical power in favor of oil producing countries, the high value for oil has been a source of trouble and ethnic wars in some countries and it has also fueled terrorism and territorial conflicts among nations (Yonk, Simmons & Steed, 2013) as witnessed in Sudan and South Sudan. In the context of this paper, fossil fuels are perceived negatively because of the harmful and sometimes carcinogenic emissions released to the environment. Fossil fuels are attributed to 25% of the greenhouse gases which have resulted to global warming, unreliable climatic patters, drought, famine, raising sea levels, and erratic weather among others. All these factors encourage the push for biodiesels whose production and demand will have far reaching impacts.
One of them is the availability of land for biomass production. A number of developing countries have been cause in the wave of biodiesel and are actively pursuing its production. One of them is Brazil which has massive plantations of sugar rich and oil rich plants being planted for feedstock. Experts are worried that cultivation of biodiesel feedstock is competing directly with crop farming. In some countries in Africa, the introduction of the Japtropha plant to feed biorefineries in developed world has received mixed reactions. Some experts in Kenya and Uganda where the crop has already been introduced are warning that the crop will hurt the already fragile ecosystem and also affect food production in area that is faced with constant drought and famine. Others claim that the highly resilient crop is way to financial freedom for impoverished peasant farmers (Mbogo 2010). Optimists argue that continued production of biofuel by such countries can enable the countries to gain a status in the global trade equal to oil giants such as Qatar and the UAE. Demirbas notes that fro biomass production to be efficient and effective, feedstock has to be sourced from around biorefineries. The author suggests a 45 km radius. In the European Union, the situation is the same. As of 2004, 620 liters of bioethanol and 2.3 billion liters f biodiesel were produced. The major feedstock for ethanol production is cereals and sugar beet while biodiesel feedstock is mainly rapeseeds. Consequently, biodiesel utilized 27% of rapeseeds while bioethanol used 0.8% of EU sugar and 0.4% of cereals produced in the EU for 2004 (Demirbas 2009). This shows that the pursuit of biofuels poses a direct threat to food production.
In most countries, food production raw materials and processes are highly subsidized by governments to make food affordable. With the biofuels competing for the same resources as food production, there is need to relook at government`s involvement in farming activities. This is because some governments are funding farmer and providing essential materials such as fertilizers at subsidized prices for production of food but some of these farmers end up producing feedstock for biorefineries which tend to pay better that the food market. On the other hand, production of biofuels is rather costly. For individual and corporations and governments that seek to use blended fuels or biofuels alone in running their fleets face a very steep increase in transport costs (Magdoff & Foster, 2011). This high cost of biofuel processing deters it from its increased use globally. Going by 2007 prices, the lowest pried feedstock in the global market was biocrude and maize going for $167/ton and $179/ton receptively. The most expensive was peanut crude oil and rapeseed oil at $891/ton and $824/ton respectively. Furthermore, the processing costs and energy requirements must be assessed. In short, the cost of biofuels in the developed world is loosely three times that of petroleum.
The socioeconomic benefits of using this pricey alternative are many. The search for feedstock and construction of biorefineries in countries and region that have never owned oil reserves not only creates job employment and enabled technology transfer but also hands such regions and counties the keys to power their development. Energy availability, pricing and reliability have been cited by the World Bank as one of the major drivers of technology in a region. For this reason, the bank has been actively funding biofuel production in a number of countries such as Brazil but faces eminent closure as studies have shown that the practice leads to increase in food prices (Bullis, 2011). Furthermore, the fact that some contemporary waste products such as chicken fat and used cooking oil can be used as feedstock for biofuel production points to a new way of making garbage and wastage economically productive. Experts in biofuel production envision that increased production over the years will result to more benefits from economics of scale and better technology that will further make the biofuels as efficient as petroleum and even more pocket friendly.
From the above discussion as presented by Demirbas, there are many issues to be considered in the production of biofuels. Coming at a time when the world still grappling with starvation is some parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa calls for an evaluation of humanity`s goals. The land deducted to production of biofuels can be effectively placed under food production to sustain the masses (Bullis 2011). Alternatively, the continued use of fossil fuel exposes humanity to eminent danger in terms of global warming, climate change and higher incidence of diseases such as cancers (Mitchell, Marcel & Mitchell, 2012). Both proponents and opponents of green energy need to take a multi-pronged approach into the issue of green energy. It is important to balance the pursuit for green energy with the socioeconomic and political impacts of such moves. The matter is very sensitive and requires a sober approach that ensures that the world is a better place and that the earth can sustain life.
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Mbogo, S. (2010). Study says biofuel crop can improve earnings of farmers in marginal lands.
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Yonk, M., Simmons, R. & Steed, B. (2013). Green vs. green: the political, legal, and
administrative pitfalls facing green energy production. New York: Routledge.

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