Biofuel made from food has always been a controversial idea in some circles. When I first heard of the idea I thought it sounded good – I was a supporter. But now there are several things that seriously tarnish the idea.
Ethanol is usually made from a feedstock consisting of corn, sugarcane or wheat. In many countries it is now mandated that motorists should be able to choose a fuel blend made up of 10% ethanol. Out of concern for the environment many motorists opt for this alternative. As more petrol is used throughout the world the price of oil goes up and so does ethanol. The feedstock that makes up this ethanol also rises in price. This means that people are hit by a double whammy. Food costs more to transport because fuel is more expensive, the food is also more expensive because it is also used to make the fuel.
Others say that making ethanol from food was always a bad idea. Agriculture is an industry that uses a lot of fuel. The question is: does the amount of fuel made from the crop outweigh the amount of fuel used to grow the crop? Some people say yes others no. Biofuel made from food will never be a solution that can replace oil. There is simply not enough arable land available. Sure we need liquid fuels, but the world also needs to eat.
The Biofuel industry is also being blamed for deforestation. In Indonesia some forests are being cut down to grow palm plantations. A large percentage of this palm oil is used to make biofuel.
All these problems could be fixed if another, more efficient to grow, biofuel feedstock could be found. I recently learnt that such a feedstock does exist. It is that often-derided green single celled organism, algae.
Companies such as Virgin Airlines and Airbus Industries are looking into algal fuels as a replacement for increasingly expensive jet fuel. Algal fuels are still an emerging technology, but there is a company in the United States, Greenfuel Technologies Corporation, already producing Biofuel from algae.
As this movie shows GreenFuel technologies have created a system that turns carbon dioxide from power plants into biofuel. The carbon dioxide is fed into a bio reactor that contains algae – photosynthesis does the rest. The algae can harvested regularly, processed and turned into bio diesel or ethanol.
The great thing about this system is it actually turns the carbon dioxide emitted from power plants into a valuable resource. The way the algae is grown does not require arable land so there is no competition with food crops.
Maybe this technology could solve many of the world’s problems, from lack of food to a viable alternative to oil.