Biofuel Explosion

Author:  Buttino Nicholas
Date:  December 2007

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have ranked the potential for biodiesel production by nation. The study, published by Matt Johnston and Tracey Holloway in Environmental Science and Technology, highlights biodiesel production potential in many developing countries, in addition to current industrialized agricultural exporting nations.

Matt Johnston, a Ph.D. candidate at the center for Sustainability and Global Environment at UW-Madison, explains that the importance of biofuel production stems from the dependence of diesel and gasoline vehicles and remote areas. We need direct replacement of these fuels because "few options. work with existing infrastructure."

To estimate existing potentials for production, Johnston and Holloway used public information on production and export of oil-rich crops. To determine possible revenues they used prices current to publication date (October, 2007). The authors also considered possible investment and employment impacts of biodiesel production.

The authors found that "Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, the United States and Brazil, collectively account for over 80% of the total" biodiesel production in the current market (Johnston and Holloway 2007). However, other nations could see revenue increases from biodiesel production. These countries include Thailand, Colombia, Uruguay and Ghana.

Responding to concerns that these developing countries do not have the cropland to spare for biodiesel production, Johnston explains that biodiesel production will not necessarily increase world hunger. According to Johnston, we must remember not only that hunger problems result more from distribution than production but also that "soybean biodiesel [industry] was founded by soybean growers." In many cases, farmers sell soybean oil as a bi-product of more profitable soybean meal.

Despite this efficiency in the use of biodiesel crops, there are still problems with relying on biodiesel. Johnston cautions that biofuels will not solve fossil fuel dependence or global warming. If countries wish to take on these larger issues, they must take the "first step of conservation."

Future research will look at agricultural systems beyond what currently exists. Johnston wishes to track how technological advances and trade pressures will change the locations and extent that peoples farm biodiesel. His goal is to discover, "how much, realistically, can we improve."

Written by Nicholas Buttino

Reviewed by Ben-Griffin Smith

Published by Pooja Ghatalia.