We've been getting an onslaught of press releases from a number of companies all promoting their biofuel production facilities and the deals they are making to provide biofuels to various industries and markets. Numerous airlines and branches of the military have tested biofuels in their aircraft to verify it is safe to use. In many aspects, biofuels are a growing business.
However, despite the flurry of production, biofuels are still a long way from replacing conventional fossil fuels. While the numbers can be impressively large-sounding, these still represent only a tiny percentage of the total amount of fuel that is consumed by motor vehicles annually. The output from a pilot plant may sound impressively large if thinking about the volume of fuel in comparison to one's individual use. But when considered against the millions of vehicles on the road, it is completely dwarfed by the volume of fuel consumed annually (or even just daily) across the nation for transportation.
In addition, as part of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, the EPA has recently set the annual production volume target for bio-based diesel at 1.28 billion gallons, a volume which is in line with current industry production and capacity. The EPA rule does not mandate a particular percentage of biofuel to be incorporated into diesel fuels, but instead is an amount that industry is required to accommodate. This serves to guarantee a place for biodiesel in the fuel mix and is part of the Energy Policy Acts of 1992 and 2005.
According to the EPA, this use of biodiesel offers benefits to the nation, noting that "[q]uantified estimates of benefits include $41 million in energy security benefits and $19-52 million in air quality disbenefits." Additionally, there are likely to be direct and indirect employment benefits and GHG emissions reductions.
Biofuels are not a silver bullet solution, however, and there are a number of drawbacks to many current forms of biofuel production. Unfortunately, many of the sources for biodiesel and ethanol are competing with food uses of land and are using food crops like corn and soybeans as feedstocks for fuel. Rainforest lands are also being cleared for plantations of sugarcane and jatropha that is being used for fuel. Despite these problems, in the long term, the growth of this industry can be useful in developing non-fossil fuels that can replace the current unsustainable fuel sources.
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