Biofuels of the future

In Featured Posts by Prof1 Comment

Next week, we will discuss the so-called “food versus fuel” issue.  Briefly, the issue addresses the practical, economic, and environmental questions related to the use of corn, soybeans, and other food crops for biofuels.  Of course, perhaps the most importantly issue is the moral question of whether food crops should be used at all for biofuels, given the  world hunger problem.

Many plant, energy, and other scientists have long argued that other crops be used for biofuels.  Specifically, these so-called “energy crops” are defined as cellulosic plants that can be grown at low-cost, with few inputs and little maintenance for the expressed purpose to be used as biofuels.  They contain enough potential energy (i.e., carbohydrates that can be fermented to ethanol) to make economic sense.  Examples include woody or herbaceous plants and grasses (like switchgrass that grows so well in Nebraska).

The challenge is that these crops must still be processed to convert the cellulose into fermentable sugars.  One possible way to address these concerns is via biotechnology.  I suppose that would make the biofuel GM, but would that really matter, even to GMO opponents?



  1. The issue of food versus fuel is an issue I’ve heard since I was young since my dad grows corn for ethanol and corn and soybeans for livestock consumption. Because I have a family member who is directly linked to the fuel side of the issue, I feel that I am partial to that side, but feel bad when I speak my piece as I feel that I’m not being considerate of the millions who are undernourished and dying of starvation. I’m hoping that the discussion in class will help me settle my internal discussion on this topic.

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