The Benefits of Biofuels
As an alternative energy source, biofuels have a number of benefits over traditional fuels made from oil:
• Produced properly they are better for the environment and can help to reduce 'climate change' (and global warming)
• Because they can be produced in this country, they can help to reduce our reliance on imported oil
• They can provide opportunities for farmers in this country and abroad
Both biofuels and traditional fossil fuels offer a way of using the energy that has been stored up from the sun. In the case of oil, this process took place many millions of years ago. When diesel and petrol are burnt to produce energy, carbon dioxide and other 'greenhouse gases' which would otherwise have stayed underground, escape into the atmosphere. It is these gases that cause global warming or climate change. In the UK, road transport produces around a quarter of all our greenhouse gases and this is increasing.
The UK, Europe and governments worldwide now believe that climate change is a real problem which must be addressed urgently. In January 2008 the European Commission announced its plans for a Renewable Energy Directive, which would see 10% of all road transport fuel coming from renewable sources by 2020.
We must reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we are producing, and there are a variety of ways we can do this in our everyday lives such as recycling, driving less, switching off appliances and using energy-saving lightbulbs. The introduction of alternative energy sources such as biofuels in the UK is just one of these ways.
Biofuels are sometimes described as green fuels. Most biofuels are made from crops. As the crops grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So the carbon dioxide that escapes when biofuels are burnt is subsequently absorbed by new plants growing to produce more biofuels - it's a 'virtuous' circle.
UK biofuels can produce significant savings in greenhouse gas emissions of 70% or more compared to conventional fuels (British Sugar 2008). Having said that, there are some biofuels that produce virtually no savings at all. The extent of greenhouse gas saving depends upon the way the crop is grown and processed into biofuel. The UK government is committed to biofuels that make a difference to the environment and has set up an independent body -The Renewable Fuels Agency (RFA) - that is responsible for ensuring that this happens. Otherwise there would be little point in introducing biofuels to the UK.
Equally it would be crazy if the production of biofuels caused damage to rain forests or to other areas of land inhabited by animals or humans. In cases where this has happened - whether for food, fuel or for any other reason - the UK biofuels industry believes that it is completely unacceptable.
The UK biofuels industry and the UK government are committed to 'sustainable' biofuels production. In fact the biofuels industry is at the cutting edge of sustainability standards. Together with governments in the UK and Europe, it is working to ensure that our biofuels come from sustainable crops - by developing criteria which fuel companies will have to adhere to. This will cover deforestation, air, water and soil quality as well as social effects like the treatment of workers and respect for the rights of local people. It is likely other products made from crops such as food and cosmetics will have to abide by similar standards in the future, and biofuels will have led the way!