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What's Behind the Hype? The Real Deal on Biofuels
are the hot topic these days. They
have generated excitement for their potential to reduce dependence on fossil
fuels, stimulate rural development in the
What are biofuels?
Are they good for the environment?
That depends on what your
environmental priorities are, and how biofuels are produced. Biofuels emit
fewer greenhouse gases than traditional fuels, and plants grown to produce
biofuels trap CO2 from the atmosphere.
Thus, biofuels can help slow or reverse global warming.
However, biofuels production has led to deforestation in
Food vs. Fuel?
Biofuels skeptics argue that
devoting more farmland to biofuels will decrease the amount of food available
and increase food prices. Corn prices, for example, have increased dramatically
in the world market as a result of corn-based ethanol production in the
On the flip side, a growing demand for biofuels could open new economic opportunities for poor nations. The tropical climates of many developing countries are better-suited for producing biofuels than the cooler climates of many developed countries, giving the developing countries a comparative advantage in this new market. Furthermore, experiments have proven that trees, shrubs, and grassland plants can produce biofuels on degraded soils. (Read more at: http://www.cedarcreek.umn.edu/.) Perhaps biofuels production need not compete with food production; studies like these show promising results.
What’s happening now with biofuels?
Many developing countries are responding to these potential market opportunities.
Currently, the World Trade Organization treats most biofuels, with the exception of biodiesel, as agricultural or chemical products. As international trade increases, the WTO may re-classify biofuels as environmental or industrial goods, which would impact the amount of tariffs that governments could impose on biofuels imports.
Production, consumption, and international trade in biofuels are all increasing. The debate will likely intensify in the coming years as biofuels impact agricultural industries, rural development, and fuel use. The long-term effects are still uncertain, but the discussion will undoubtedly continue.
 Legal definition from the Biomass Research and Development Act of 2000.
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