These are the real environmental impacts of biofuels

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Just because alternative energies have "less negative impacts" that does not mean that they are more friendly to the environment or that they even pollute less

These are the real environmental impacts of biofuels

Climate change is one of the problems that most affects the planet. For this reason, different strategies have been proposed to reduce and mitigate activities that damage the environment. In order to design these strategies, the factors that produce climate change have been identified. One of these are greenhouse gases.

Leer en español: Estos son los efectos ambientales reales de los biocombustibles

According to Blasing's research, published in the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), since 1750, after the industrial revolution, greenhouse gases have increased by 40% with respect to carbon dioxide. Some of the activities that produce greenhouse gases are:

  • Agriculture
  • Cattle raising
  • Production and use of energy
  • Transportation, among others

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, alternatives such as biofuels have been reached. The United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) , in 2008, in its publication entitled "The State of Food and Agriculture", refers to these fuels.

According to this organization, although biofuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they cause negative consequences in relation to the production and processing of raw materials. This is because agricultural production causes certain effects on land, water and biodiversity.

Biocultures and their real effects

1. Indeed, biocultures can reduce emissions of the gases in question thanks to the elimination of carbon dioxide from the air, because they store it in biomass and soil. However, according to the FAO, it is important to bear in mind that the methods used for the production of raw materials and the crops themselves can generate even more greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

Nitrous oxide, for example, has a global warming potential about 300 times greater than carbon dioxide and is released by nitrogen fertilizers.

It is important to highlight that the emission of these gases occurs throughout the life cycle of the entire biofuels process since the change in land use, the production of fertilizers, pesticides and fuel used in agriculture, the preparation of chemical products, transport for processing, distribution, until its final use in transport.

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2. In 2014, the SciDevNet portal published an article related to the environmental cost generated by corn ethanol. In this one not only refers to the effects of gases but comments that this biofuel generates carcinogenic compounds.

In addition, it is evident that the greatest impact is due to the use of fertilizers, in this case phosphorous. The harmful effects in waters due to these fertilizers and pesticides are toxic to society.

FAO supports this fact, since the production of biodiesel and ethanol generates organically contaminated wastewater that, if released untreated, could increase the eutrophication of surface water bodies, that is, the accumulation of organic waste in different water sources such as seas, lakes, rivers, etc.

The FAO also explains that among the harmful effects is:

3. Among the additional effects to the production of greenhouse gases, biofuels can also cause the conversion of non-agricultural land for the production of crops or the displacement of land already cultivated. This conversion of tropical forests to the production of crops of any kind can release quantities of these gases that significantly exceed the possible annual savings obtained from biofuels.

4. Water resources would also be affected since the production of biofuels from raw materials such as sugarcane, palm oil and corn requires high amounts of water. In addition, the contamination of water resources associated with the application of fertilizers and agrochemicals, soil erosion, the washing of raw materials and other phases of the ethanol production process are highly worrying.


LatinAmerican Post | Camila Peñaloza Quimbay

Translated from "Estos son los efectos ambientales reales de los biocombustibles"