I don’t think so, but that’s not because I think biofuels aren’t a good idea–they are. However, the way our economy and our environmental consciousness is evolving, I believe the future of industrialized societies will learn from their experience with fossil fuels and resist the impulse to depend entirely or primarily on one fuel source for the bulk of their energy needs. My personal belief is that the future will see us power our society with a mix of energy sources: solar, wind, hydroelectricity, geothermal, biofuels, and yes, fossil fuels, which I don’t think will ever really go away.
Biofuels do have some clear advantages, but I think their true utility as a large-scale and permanent energy source is still in the future. Brazil, notably, has been having some success in using ethanol derived from biomass–corn, mostly–as a replacement for traditional gasoline. However, there are some disadvantages with this approach; the energy and carbon expenditures needed to grow large stocks of corn to turn into ethanol generally offsets the energy savings and carbon sequestration resulting from lesser reliance on traditional “dinosaur juice” gasoline and diesel fuels. Nonetheless, it’s not a bad idea as a stopgap measure, and something to put in our tanks until such time as we can power our cars, factories and homes with something more environmentally friendly, and every little bit helps.
One biofuel that I personally think has potential is algae fuel. Algae grows much faster than traditional crops, and it grows cheaply and naturally in rather unsavory places–such as collection ponds full of sewage sludge. Turning (let’s be blunt here) our poop into fuel is not a bad tradeoff. The problem right now, of course, is economics. Producing algae fuel is expensive, but researchers in the field believe that more R&D will result in more economical ways to do it, and as prices for traditional fuels rise, investors’ expectations regarding return yields and expected profits may also make algae fuel production more attractive. It’s definitely worth feeding into the mix of renewable energy resources that are being considered all over the world as alternatives to fossil fuels.
That said, it would be unwise for any society to rely on one primary source for its energy needs. We’ve learned that lesson the hard way with our reliance on hydrocarbons. For economic, strategic, political and environmental reasons, I think the future will see societies diversify in their quest for energy sources, because it makes good sense. Will biofuels be in the mix? Yes, I very much expect them to be. Will we ever rely solely on biofuels? I very much doubt it.
No, because it is likely that we will come up with engines that run on either pure electricity, or fuel cells. This, combined with the possibility of more efficient solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric generators may mean the phasing out of the Internal Combustion Engine as we know it entirely, resulting in no use of biofuels at all.
I hope this helped!
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