Biofuels: Finding an Answer to the Energy Problem

The search for alternative fuels and energy sources has moved from a unique scientific pursuit to an economic and global necessity in the last decade. Immersed in controversy due to the soaring costs of fuel, food and other living expenses, the biofuel and ethanol industries are scrambling to find new and better ways to power our homes, cars and tractors.

Currently, the most common and widely produced biofuel is corn-based ethanol. However, even supporters of the industry realize that it is not the final answer to our energy needs. Corn ethanol is helping us reduce dependence on oil, but most agree that the future lies in using cheaper non-food material.

There are dozens of solutions in the works, but one of the most promising sources of cellulosic ethanol is switchgrass, a perennial that can thrive on poor soil with little water, fertilizer or pesticides.

Jeffrey Bennetzen, a professor of molecular genetics at Franklin College studying biomass energy, said that the advantages of using a cellulosic approach are that switchgrass captures carbon dioxide very effectively. It also reduces runoff from fields and does not take valuable acreage away from food production.

Sunflower stalks, sugar cane and sweet sorghum are all being studied for their use in creating cleaner and more efficient bioenergy. Their ability to grow quickly in conditions where corn and soybeans cannot, allows these energy sources to yield 250 percent more ethanol per acre than corn.

Other creative sources of fuel are pond algae, certain fruits and animal food wastes.

“Any kind of relief or help we can get from a cheaper source of oil could impact the agriculture industry tremendously throughout the country, throughout the world,” said Florida citrus farmer Bryan Beer. During peak harvesting, his tractors consume 120 gallons of fuel a day.

Many of America’s best minds are working to create what many believe will be one of the keys to a truly renewable energy system in this country and around the globe. It is projected that the impact of these research developments won’t be seen for about five to 10 years, but we do know that whatever the solution, farmers will have major roles to play.

There are still many questions that need to be answered, and many seem to directly influence the American farmer. Do you believe that cellulosic fuel is the answer? Is moving away from corn and soy-based fuel – products that many in the industry are finally catching up with – a wise decision? Could you see yourself growing these new crops? Let me know your thoughts. Please comment below.

No comments: