What Big Oil Doesn’t Want You To Know About Biofuels

As rising energy prices trigger growing concerns on the part of Americans, the energy industry is determined to maintain the status quo and stall on a major opportunity to reduce energy dependence – the production of biofuels.

Energy industry officials have no shortage of excuses on why they can’t move forward on biofuels. In a recent BBC article, one unnamed industry official asserted that “there’s simply not enough foodstuff available and not enough land to grow it on” to keep up with the “growing demand for [grains] used to produce biodiesel.” A day earlier a New York Times article quoted an agricultural expert warning that demand for foodstuff for biofuels might mean higher food prices, instability and even corn shortages.

But the facts don’t back up their arguments. In the face of growing energy demands from China and India and global population growth, an international corn shortage isn’t possible anytime soon:

First, developing a biofuel economy can actually help reduce hunger and poverty by diversifying agricultural and forestry activities, attracting new farmers, and investing in small and medium enterprises. Increased investment in agricultural production has the potential to boost incomes of the world’s poorest people.

Second, world hunger is not the result of absolute food scarcity in the world. Hunger has more to do with inadequate distribution and income. Presently, nearly 40 percent of global cereal crops are used to feed livestock, not humans.

Finally, biofuel refineries in the future will depend less on food crops and more on organic wastes and residues. The greatest potential from sustainable transportation fuels will come from emerging technologies that produce alcohol fuels from cellulose (“cellulosic ethanol”) which unlike corn ethanol, also uses the stalks, hulls and other woody, rigid material that makes up the plants.

Ethanol, coupled with strong efficiency and smart growth policies, could dramatically reduce, if not eliminate the United States’ need for oil. Don’t let the naysayers tell you any different.

– Teresita Perez