(Bio)Fueling The Economy
This article originally appeared as a guest blog post at Global Harvest Initiative.
Advances in technical research and market development are propelling agriculture in new directions. Through agricultural science, crop varieties and yields continue to improve to produce sufficient nutritious food for a growing and increasingly affluent global population.
In the course of satisfying global demand for protein, agriculture has been oversupplying carbohydrates, fat, and fiber which are coproducts of protein production. This surplus gave rise to the development of biofuels, which in turn improve the economics of the food supply. Developing markets for excess fat, fiber, and carbohydrates reduces the cost of protein production from conventional crops.
Biofuels have also shown benefits to local economies and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases; attention is now turning to growing additional biofuel crops developed with specific qualities and high yields for converting solar energy into liquid fuels. Products such as switchgrass and algae are joining corn, soybeans, wheat, canola, and sweet sorghum to serve as “feedstocks” (the materials used for energy) for an increasingly diverse energy portfolio.
Diversifying markets and crop varieties makes it economically possible to grow biofuel crops on marginal lands or in optimized rotations that were not economical under the scenarios of limited markets and existing surpluses of fats and carbohydrates. The products of these crops create fuel substitutes that replace a portion of petroleum-based fuels. These renewable fuels reduce carbon emissions while adding jobs for rural Americans.
Biodiesel is a successful example of how agriculture is providing cleaner fuels, particularly for freight and transport uses. Diesel is the prime fuel for powering farm machinery and tractors and for transporting agricultural products. Biodiesel is made from rapidly renewable sources such as soybean oil, animal fats, used cooking oil, and even new sources such as algae. Biodiesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel. It is less toxic than table salt and biodegrades as fast as sugar.
All diesel engines can use biodiesel without modification, and biodiesel is often blended with petroleum diesel to create a biodiesel blend. In 2014, U.S. biodiesel production reached 1.7 billion gallons, powering cars and trucks, farm machinery and equipment, buses, rail engines and boats.
For more information on how agricultural innovation is driving sustainable food, feed, fiber and fuel, read The Global Harvest Initiative’s 2015 GAP Report® Building Sustainable Breadbaskets.
Don Scott serves as the Director of Sustainability for the National Biodiesel Board.