Global Climate Change

Biofuels: Can they Assist in Reducing Climate Change?

Biofuels have the potential to play a vital role in sustainable energy solutions. Today, global warming, and energy sustainability  is are prominent issues. Biofuels can be looked at as the best of both worlds, we can continue to use petreloum fuels while incorporating biofuels. Unlike most renewable and sustainable energy solutions, the whole transportation infrastructure does not have  to be changed. Biofuels can be mixed with gasoline reduces carbon content and often increases efficiency (Biofuels: A Solution for Climate Change). The majority of biofuels contribute marginal greenhouse gas emissions compared to petroleum based fuels, a huge advantage for biofuels. Also some biofuels can achieve greater efficiencies,  in turn reducing greenhouse gas emissions per mile traveled. Some biofuel feedstocks even consume greenhouse gases to grow! So why not just drop everything and convert to biofuels now ? Biofuel production needs energy in one way or another. This energy, and in turn carbon release,  must be accounted for in assessing the greenhouse gas reductions from biofuels. In order for biofuels to help become a solution to global climate change, the world must first determine the overall carbon footprint of CO2 for biofuels to ensure, it is in fact, reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. Fore example some cases of first generation biofuels production can accumulate a carbon debt of 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the actual reduction of CO2 from using biofuels over gasoline (Biofuels: Impact on climate change). Along those lines, there is also some question on weather Carbon emission can be reduced in a timely manner with respect to biofuels. Figure 1 highlights some of the carbon debts associated with different biofuels in different locations and extrapolates the carbon debts associated and how many years it will take to break even (in terms of carbon emissions).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

As figure 1. shows there can be a vast range of times to repay carbon debt. Some scenarios may take up to 423 years to pay off while others could reduce overall emissions in up to a year. This vast range makes it difficult and very important to factor in the total carbon debt and savings. Future policy must ensure that biofuel production outlines there carbon debt and the time it will take to repay biofuel carbon debt to ensure that biofuels are, in fact, helping alleviate climate change.

(Composed by Eli Karp, edited by Robert King)


Biofuels: A Solution for Climate Change. (1999, September 1). Retrieved May 6, 2015, from

Biofuels: Impact on climate change. Lecture conducted from World Agrolorestry Centre,


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By Eli Karp, Robert King, Tien Tran, and Matthew Schmitt