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Biofuel

Biofuels

Before reading this blog, please understand that I tried to make it original and I decided to make it sort of a written podcast. There are three different people involved, who are fictional, who express my personal opinions.

Good morning UBC, we are here from the Student Union Building studio at the heart of the University, I am next to our guests, Science major, Fillipo Insaghi from Italy and, Forestry major, Mohamed Dafour from Afghanistan, who will be discussing the effects of biofuel with me, your host, Jason Smith.
Lets start the morning discussing a little bit what biofuels are. Fillipo, what is exactly a biofuel?
Biofuels are essentially liquid fuels derived from plants. There are two kinds of such fuel, bioethanol and biodiesel. In the first case, bioethanol is an alcohol made by fermenting the sugar components of plant materials and it is made mostly from sugar and starch crops1. This fuel is very popular in Brazil and USA, and is mainly used as a gasoline additive to increase octane and improve vehicle emissions. On the second case, biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled gases. Biodiesel can be used in its pure form to power cars, or it can be used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates and carbon monoxide2.
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Very good explanation Fillipo, thank you. Now that we have a better insight of what biofuels are, lets not waste time and lets dive in into our discussion of the day: are biofuels ethically correct? And are they benefiting or rather causing more problems to our society?
Fillipo, from your point of view, do you believe that the environment is benefiting or being negatively affected by the production of biofuels?
Jason, this is really a grey area. I cannot really say they are good or bad, because biofuels can be seen from different perspectives. On one hand, there are many ecological benefits derived from producing biofuels. As you now know this fuels are produced from agricultural fields, which means that they are renewable sources of energy, unlike oil3. As well, a lot of farmers in North America produce biofuels domestically which means that they don’t need to depend on foreign oil sources, and hence there is no cost and carbon footprint as the oil doesn’t need to be transported. As well, they do not contribute to global warming, since they only emit back to the environment the carbon dioxide (CO2) that their source plants absorbed out of the atmosphere in the first place.
On the other hand, there are some reasons to believe that biofuels are actually not that great for the environment. First, there are studies, such as researcher David Pimental’s, from Cornell University, argue that producing ethanol from corn require twenty-nine percent more energy than the end product is capable of generating4. Although his research was based on corn based fuels, there are other studies that claim that fuels derived from soybeans and wheat don’t differ very much. Professor Pimental claims that, “there is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel” Therefore, I should argue that at the end biofules are not really that great for either the environment or society.
Fillipo, thank you for your opinion. It is interesting to see how biofuels actually do not save any energy at the end, and the reduced carbon footprint they cause is overshadowed by the weaker power that they actually produce.
Now, I will turn to Mohammed, who is a Forestry major and who is eager to give his opinion on biofuels. Mohammed please tell us what you think about biofuels.
First, I would like to thank you for inviting me to participate in this program, I would like to say that I strongly disagree with the implementation of biofuels as a source of energy. As Fillipo previously mentioned it, biofuels are not viable for society and the environment. If we were to continue to produce biofuels and eventually try to standardize them as our main power source, we would basically run out of land to produce these fuels. I can assure you that if we were to meet the current world demand for fuels, we would have to destroy and convert all the forests in the world into crops, just to meet current demand levels. Besides that, if we were to convert only five percent of the US diesel consumption with biodiesel, we would have to use sixty percent of today’s soy crops to biodiesel production. Lets just think for a moment and ask ourselves if, first, is it viable to do such a thing? And second, how many people are currently starving to death? Is it ethically correct to convert food into fuel to allow people to enjoy a car ride or a motorcycle trip while somebody else is dying because there is simply just not enough food?
Mohammed, that is a very interesting point of view. We have ran out of time but I thank you for coming and providing us with your opinions. Here from UBC radio station, have a great day, ciao.

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