During the 2006-2009 period, there was much talk of a “green revolution”, gaining “energy independence”, greater “fuel efficiency”, and, of course, “biofuels.” However, the nasty recession and slow economic recovery from it really led the media away from this issue. What is going on with biofuels? Are they still being produced or even used? Why did corn ethanol suddenly seem to “drop out of the picture?”
The focus on corn based ethanol fuel by the national and international media really seemed to have a negative impact on the whole biofuels debate. Corn was the primary source of biofuel ethanol during this time and received much of the spotlight in the biofuels discussions. Many new ethanol plants opened up in the Midwest, with the thought of loads of corn being turned into ethanol for good prices luring many farmers into turning to corn for fuel cultivation. However, the negative downsides of this, both real and hype, quickly became the centerpoint of biofuels debates. Different studies showed different positive or negative energy yields for the amount of work put into generating an equal amount of fuel from corn, and whether or not it was truly a efficient way to create fuel. The detrimental environmental impact of long-term corn farming for biofuels use was also pointed out many times, especially the effect on the Gulf of Mexico and the “dead zone” in that region (thanks to the runoff from thousands of farms into the Mississippi River). Finally, the concern of using fuel for food really gained international exposure when the price of food rose so high in some parts of the world (Mexico especially) that food riots broke out. Was it right to switch to biofuels when it meant, supposedly, depriving others of food? That and many other problems quickly tarnished the reputation of corn-based fuel ethanol as a “green” source of biofuel.
But are biofuels dead? No! The media attention to the biofuels may have dropped significantly, but there is still much research and growth in this field, happening every day. Just recently, on February 11, the Air Force announced it had certified its C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to run on biofuel mixtures. The military has been increasingly interested in alternative fuel sources, including biofuels, and this is but one example of steps they are taking in that direction. Also on Feburary 11th, the USDA approved bioengineered corn for growth in the United States, for the purpose of biofuel plan cultivation. The interest in the “going green” may have taken a backseat to supposedly more pressing economic issues as this country works its way out of a recession, but that does not mean the work and production of biofuels has stopped. Keep your eyes open for more exciting developments in this potentially environmentally friendly fuel field.