Production of Biofuels

The Environmental Defense Fund has determined that "a key factor in how effective biofuels are in fighting global warming is the energy efficiency of their production methods. These include everything from running plows and harvesters to manufacturing pesticides and fertilizer to converting the material into fuel and transporting it. Improving land use through sustainable practices such as no-till farming, and boosting energy efficiencies make biofuels more effective at reducing heat-trapping pollution."

Based on research conducted by the Pew Center, dedicated energy crops could supply 6 to 12 percent of the current U.S. energy demand without significantly raising food prices. The resultant biomass could be used for a number of applications: to produce heat, power, and for fuel. Currently, the largest markets are in the generation of steam and electricity from forest biomass and fuel (ethanol) from corn. In the future, there will be the production of dedicated energy crops (such as grasses) and agricultural residues. Research by the Pew Center has indicated that producing these energy sources would require the use of 15 percent of U.S. agricultural lands. The upper limit on cost-effective production of ethanol from cornstarch is estimated at 10 billion gallons (38 billion liters) per year, or less than 4 percent of the U.S. transportation demand. In addition, production of ethanol from agricultural residues and energy crops could provide 57 billion to 84 billion gallons (216 billion-318 billion liters) of transportation fuels annually.

Several types of biomass can currently be produced for three major categories: heat, electricity, and transportation fuel. They are as follows:

• grass biomass—heating homes

• short rotation woody crops—heating homes and transportation

• waste vegetable oil—heating homes and transportation

• straight vegetable oil—heating homes and transportation

biodiesel—transportation

• ethanol—transportation

• corn grain—heating homes

There are advantages to farmers for producing biofuels. As energy prices rise, farms that reduce their energy use increase efficiency. Those that produce fuels will be more financially stable in the country's currently unstable fossil fuels market. In addition, producing and selling biofuels provides additional income to farmers. Biofuel production also supports and strengthens the local economy rather than foreign economies.

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