Experts agree biodiesel must be part of a sustainable society

By The National Biodiesel Board | February 08, 2012

Experts from the U.S. and Canada today called for increased usage of biodiesel in North America, saying the sustainable transportation fuel protects the continent’s energy security and augments the food supply of the entire world, while providing a positive impact on climate change. The scientists, academics and economic analysts gathered in Orlando for the “Sustainability Symposium on Renewable and Transportation Fuels,” part of the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo, organized by the USDA and the U.S. DOE.

Central to the discussions at the day-long conference was biodiesel’s ability to alleviate dependence on foreign oil, a dependence that threatens national security and is subject to the uncertainty produced by the world’s most politically unstable regions. According to the Economist Magazine, the U.S. paid approximately $125 billion more for oil imports in 2011 than it did in 2010 because of unrest in the Middle East.

The result, argued Energy Victory author Robert Zubrin, is that U.S. foreign policy is largely driven by a thirst for oil in countries that are considered unfriendly to American interests.

“In the early 1970s, we imported less than a third of our oil and the total cost was less than 5 percent of our defense budget,” Zubrin said. “Today, we are 60 percent dependent on imported oil and spend more on imported oil than we spend on national defense. It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” he said.

Other panelists noted that a lack of an effective energy policy also weakens the nation’s economic recovery, calling for increased usage of renewable fuels that provide an important alternative to petroleum and support tens of thousands of domestic jobs.
Biodiesel is one of the more promising biofuels and the nation’s only commercially available advanced biofuel. In 2011, biodiesel production jumped by more than 300 percent, topping 1 billion gallons for the first time in the industry’s history.

"Biofuels—particularly biodiesel—are a shining star within the declining U.S. manufacturing sector and provide significant economic, environmental, and energy security benefits," said John Urbanchuk, a nationally recognized economic analyst.

Central to biodiesel’s appeal is its positive impact on the environment when compared to other fuels. The fuel reduces life-cycle greenhouse gases by as much as 89 percent, lowers particulate matter and reduces smog. Experts are being conservative when they quantify the numerous benefits of biodiesel. The life-cycle analysis used to quantify biodiesel’s emissions relative to petroleum, for instance, is very comprehensive. Nothing is left out, and many indirect emissions are included. Years ago, biofuel critics speculated that they could depict biofuels to be as bad as fossil fuel by adding such indirect emissions to biofuel analysis. Today, science is showing that biodiesel maintains a significant benefit, even when held to a higher standard than conventional fuels.

“Biodiesel is the perfect example of liquid solar energy,” said Kansas State University’s Richard Nelson. “Burning these fuels does not add net carbon to the atmosphere, because we end up burning biomass that is already part of the biosphere’s biogenic carbon cycle.”

Ultimately, biofuels fit well into a comprehensive energy policy, the experts said. They noted that a sustainable and cleaner energy source that boosts American jobs and displaces billions of gallons of petroleum can help guide the nation toward a more sensible energy policy and secure energy future.

"It is urgent that we reduce emissions lest we lose our ability to mitigate climate change as feedbacks amplify climate warming,” said Steven Mulkey with Unity College. “When managed sustainably, biofuels can be an important part of our transition to a low-emissions economy.”


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