The Price of Biofuels
The challenge of finding a new energy source to stray away from fossil fuels is a path with many challenges. There is a lot of pressure to push alternative fuel sources like ethanol into the market, but there are numerous problems and issues that need to be dealt with before biofuels can be a real competitor in the energy market. There are things such as economic costs, energy benefits, and production that need be addressed. From what the article states, there are some serious challenges ahead for any biofuel.
The article starts out with the economics of ethanol and its production from the use of corn. Around the time the article was written, a bushel of corn was varying between $3.50 and $4.00. That is a high price to pay for a bushel of corn to ethanol producers. The reason many producers are losing money is because ethanol is not mainstream in the transportation market yet and is mainly used along with gasoline as an additive. The use of ethanol is struggling economically as the price margin is extremely small. Only 20% of corn produced in the United States went to producing ethanol. This cost is then applied to a rising cost of livestock feed.
The next issue in the article is the energy offsets. The author states that 54% of total energy of ethanol is offset by its production alone, while another %24 is from its production. Although ethanol does burn more cleanly than fossil fuels it is found, by an economist by the name of Stephen Polasky, the difference is very small. He also states that even if all the corn grown in the US goes towards producing ethanol, it would only displace 12% of gasoline consumption.
Lastly, the issue of production is addressed. The author writes about how different types of biofuels may be the answer, instead of ethanol. Things like cellulosic biomass, created from Brazilian sugar cane or switchgrass. These 2 sources of biomass are grown quickly and cheaply. One interesting point in the article is that the use of mixed grasses are grown in very poor soil which regular crops can’t grow. It gives the problem of needing more land for agriculture and production of food crops, but not having enough because the need to grow biomass for fuel. This would help solve the issue by being able to grow biomass on fields where crops can’t grow anyways. However, the problem is the process of production is expensive and the search to find an organism to break down the lignin is showing signs of breakthrough.
The article is well written in my opinion. It has a lot of information telling the reader about the issues of biofuel production that include aspects of production, economics, and technology. It was very easy to read and extremely interesting. The author gave many viewpoints away from just ethanol, such as the cellulosic biomass idea, and also showed why other options could be viable as an alternative fuel source. There were a lot of numbers and statistics, but they were well placed and very easy to understand their significance within the article. Along with the opinions and statements from experts in the field, this article was well written, informative, and overall very good.