The pros and cons of biofuel can vary depending on what type of feedstock was used to make it. A universal benefit that is often associated with biofuel is that it can reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and subsequently lower the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. It can also lead to increased energy independence for a country by reducing the need for foreign sources of crude oil. One concern that tends to be associated with biofuel is that its production could interfere with the human food chain or lead to deforestation. Most of these pros and cons of biofuel are dependent on whether it is ethanol, biodiesel, or other fuels that are being discussed.
Some of the main pros and cons of biofuel involve greenhouse gases. Using biofuels can still release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, just like gasoline and petrodiesel. The difference is that the plant matter that is used to create biofuel tends to sequester an equal amount of carbon during the growing process. The plant matter would still release the carbon back into the atmosphere during the process of decaying, but it is sped up by using it as a fuel.
Alcohol can be associated with a variety of different pros and cons of biofuel. Ethanol is alcohol typically made out of plant matter that could also serve as food for humans. Corn and sugarcane are two common crops that have been turned into ethanol, leading to concerns over the availability of food. If this type of biofuel was to take over entirely from oil, there could be a resulting scarcity of food that would drive prices higher. Methanol is often made out of non-food vegetable matter, but if it is created from wood there could be issues with sustainability.
Another common type of biofuel is vegetable or animal triglycerides that have been treated with alcohol and a catalyst. Some of the pros and cons of biofuel in regards to these biodiesels are similar to potential ethanol issues. The fact that biodiesel can be made out of food such as soybeans can also lead to concerns about food scarcity, but there are other potentially more sustainable options for creating this type of biofuel.
One of the potential benefits of biodiesel is that it can be made from a variety of feedstocks. Used vegetable oils and animal fats can be turned into biodiesel if they are purified. Research has also been done into making biodiesel out of plants that can be grown on marginal lands that would not otherwise support agriculture. Another potential source of sustainable biodiesel is algae, which can be grown in ways that do not interfere with agriculture.