The Role of Biofuels in Sustainable Agriculture: Promoting Energy Independence

People’s dependence on fossil fuels has led to serious issues with global warming and damage to the environment. To get people away from fossil fuels, people shifted to solar, wind, hydroelectricity, heat pumps, and geothermal, but all of these have limitations. Plus, they’re not extremely helpful at powering vehicles, planes, and trains.

Enter biofuels, liquid fuels produced from things found in nature like corn, soy, used cooking oil, trees, and algae. Biofuel is made from feedstock that can be grown and harvested or is already out there and spread quickly, such as algae, poplar trees, and switchgrass. 

As research in biofuels increases, some things already stand out. Biofuel offers many benefits to the environment. Biofuels can help promote energy independence while forming sustainable agricultural practices that benefit the nation.

What Are the Challenges of Biofuels?

It can take years of research for something new to become the best possible solution. Biofuel isn’t without its problems. One of them is that biofuel doesn’t stand up to bitter cold temperatures. It will gel and that impacts how well a diesel engine runs in cold climates. 

Another issue is how the nation grows enough of the crops needed to create the feedstock needed to make biofuel. Approximately 48 gallons of soybean oil can be extracted from one acre of soybeans. It’s better for rapeseed oil. One acre of rapeseed can produce as much as 160 gallons of oil. These are the popular choices for growing biodiesel feedstock.

  • Camelina/False flax
  • Corn
  • Jatropha Curcas
  • Mustard
  • Rapeseed/Canola
  • Safflower seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Sunflower seeds

A lot of land is needed to grow the feedstock, and that also means a lot of water is needed to grow those crops. New research found that the earth’s axis shifts about four centimeters per year due to the high withdrawal rates of water from the underground. If too much water is used, there’s no water left for people and animals, and there’s also the risk of changing weather patterns and seasonal changes caused by the shift in the earth’s axis that may affect future generations.

That’s another issue. A lot of land is needed to grow the feedstock to make biofuel, but we also need land for the produce that people need to eat to stay healthy. There has to be a balance when it comes to the number of farms growing biofuel feedstock and those growing fruits and vegetables for people to buy.

As researchers look at growing crops for biodiesel, it has to be done carefully with eyes on the future. At the same time, there have been many benefits that come from sustainable agricultural practices.

Explore the Different Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture Practices in the Biofuel Industry

While biofuel production does have some downsides, it also brings many positives to the table.

  1. Beneficial Cover Crops

Cover crops like soybeans are often used in agricultural farms because the stalks, stems, and leaves can be plowed back into the soil when the soybeans are harvested. It provides the soil with valuable nutrients that help grow more crops. 

Many farmers rotate crops and ensure they have winter ground cover on their fields to keep giving back to the soil that’s helping grow the crops that feed their livestock and pay their bills. Soybeans and other legumes are great cover crops.

The other benefit to cover crops is that they prevent soil erosion. The roots hold the soil in place, so wind, flooding waters from snow melt, or torrential downpours don’t wash away the fields. The roots keep the soil loose and aerated, which is essential to a future plant’s health.

  1. Plants Thrive on Carbon Dioxide and Release Oxygen

Greenhouse gas emissions are a problem, but plants can help ease some of the issues. A plant absorbs some carbon dioxide for the photosynthesis process. In return, plants release oxygen back into the environment. That helps with the greenhouse effect. The more plants that are grown, the bigger the benefit.

  1. Job Production Soars

To grow the feedstock for biofuels, you need workers. Biofuel can be a money-maker. If the people helping on biofuel farms and processing plants are paid a fair wage, they’ll have money for homes, groceries, and other regular expenses, which helps the economy.  

Jobs in rural areas are often harder to find, and biofuel farms and processing plants bring a wealth of jobs to areas that need them. It’s a win-win situation.

  1. Research Continues

Because we need healthy feedstock that contains high levels of the oils needed to make biofuel, researchers are looking at ways to make crops like algae, soybeans, and rapeseed grow faster, bigger, and at a variety of temperatures. If plants can tolerate temperature extremes, it could be possible to get multiple harvests per year.

The current administration seems to be taking the need for alternative fuel and energy sources into consideration. A lot of money has been pumped into research and facilities. In 2021, biodiesel production reached 1.7 billion gallons. It increased to about 1.82 billion gallons in 2022. Production is increasing. 

What Can People Do to Help?

What will help support the future of biofuels? Continued research and development is just a small part. People need to support a sustainable biofuel industry. If you are looking for a new car, look into having a diesel engine that can run on biodiesel. If you are shopping for a new furnace or boiler, see if you could invest in a system that runs on biodiesel.

Ask your government officials to back programs that are using sustainable agriculture methods to grow the feedstock for biodiesel. What crops are useful for biodiesel? Rapeseed, soybean, and canola are three of the biggest.

Cooking oil is a great resource in the world of biofuels. After cooking fried foods, save your oil. Don’t throw it out. See if there are local recycling facilities that allow you to drop off buckets or jars of cooking oil.

As a restaurant owner, you have a role in the growth of the biofuel industry. When you’ve finished cooking and need to change over your fryer’s oil, what happens to that oil? If you’re bagging it up and putting it in the trash, you’re wasting a valuable resource. 

Portland restaurants are required by local laws to have working grease traps. Partner with Northwest Biofuel and have your grease trap cleaned and maintained in accordance with local laws. In addition to filing all the required paperwork to ensure you’re in compliance, we will give you a discount on our already low-priced services if we also pick up your used cooking oil.

Northwest Biofuel brings used cooking oil to a processor that converts it into biofuel. That biofuel can then be mixed with petroleum-based diesel to reduce the dependency on petroleum products. Give us a call to schedule grease trap maintenance and used cooking oil recycling services.

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