Alternative Energy In The United States: Why Biofuels Are Not A Sustainable Alternative

3570 words - 15 pages

With the current war in Iraq, concerns about terrorism, rising fuel prices, and a growing environmental awareness, Americans are having an increasing interest in alternative fuel sources. Two of the major alternatives being considered today are biodiesel and ethanol. Biodiesel and ethanol are alcohol based fuel replacements made from natural sources and are typically known as “green fuels.” One of the prominent green fuel supporters today is singer Willie Nelson, partner in the Willie Nelson Biodiesel Company, also known as BioWillie. This company is focusing on the idea that green fuels, particularly biodiesel, offer an environmentally friendly, natural and sustainable alternative to ...view middle of the document...

Higher ratios of biodiesel to diesel can be used, but this requires engine modification (U.S. Department of Energy.) Ethanol is a green fuel somewhat similar to biodiesel, except that it is used as a gasoline equivalent rather than a diesel equivalent. Ethanol is created by fermenting and distilling starch crops. There are two types of ethanol, cellulosic ethanol and grain ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is created from crops such as sugarcane and sugar beets, and grain ethanol is made from crops such as corn. E10 ethanol can be used in any automobile engine. E10 is 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. Some vehicles, commonly known as “flex fuel” vehicles, have specially modified engines that are able to run off of fuels that have a higher ethanol content. Flex fuel vehicles run off of E85. This contains 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline (U.S. Department of Energy.) Brazil is one country today that highly utilizes the flex fuel vehicle. Brazil began utilizing ethanol, particularly cellulosic ethanol, beginning with the fuel shortage in the 1970’s. The country during this time period was unable to afford importing gasoline into the country, so they began heavily researching ethanol. Today, ethanol in Brazil is less expensive than regular gasoline, and every gas station in Brazil is required to have one pump that distributes ethanol (Rohter.) Sustainability One of the main arguments today for green fuels is that they are a sustainable, renewable fuel. But just what is sustainability? An object or process can be classified as sustainable if that object/process can be maintained for indefinite period of time without weakening either the object/process or the environment in which it exists. According to Dean Koyanagi, researcher at Cornell University, sustainability has been described as a complex interaction between three factors: economy, society, and the environment (Figure 2). Figure 2: Sustainability Diagram (Figure taken from: Koyanagi, Dean. Sustainable Measures. 2000. 4 May 2006. figure represents the complex interaction between the three factors beginning with the economy. The economy exists completely within society, because the economy completely relies on the interaction and dealings amongst people. In order to be sustainable, the economy cannot grow larger than the society in which it resides. If the economy surpasses the society in which it resides, the society will not be able to support that particular economy. This statement it described by the statement “living beyond your means.” If someone is living beyond their means, they are spending their resources faster than they are gaining the resources back. This person will eventually loose all that they have and be left with nothing. The economy functions exactly like the individual. The economy will fail if it requires more from the society than the society is capable of providing. In turn, both the society and the economy exist...

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