Chopped by Benard Ogembo

Biofuels: Win-win or risky business?

SDG 7 SDG 8 SDG 13

Biofuels are fuels made from living things or their waste products.

They include solid biomass such as wood or charcoal; biogas (methane produced from sewage); and liquids such as bioethanol and biodiesel, derived from crops such as maize, sugarcane, soybeans and jatropha.

While biofuels do emit some greenhouse gases when they burn, the plants from which they are created absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow. So they appear to offer a means to provide power in a more climate-friendly way than fossil fuels.

Their proponents argue that, especially across the Africa, there is ample opportunity to grow biofuels and traditional food crops with little conflict, thus allowing the continent to simultaneously use unproductive or idle land and profit off a new export commodity.

Opponents argue that many biofuels are bad for the climate as the process of growing materials to convert into some biofuels are, ironically, fossil-fuel intensive. Some critics of biofuels claim that they are not in fact compatible with food production.

A recent Oxfam report claims that the land now being devoted to biofuel production could have fed up to one billion people. Others warn that investors, keen to profit from the biofuel rush, have leased large areas of land that local communities had lived and worked upon as their own.

Still, many experts are hesitant to write off biofuels altogether, and point to the need for further research. New forms of biofuels, such as those that use algae to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, do show promise, though they remain in an early stage of development.

Chopped by

Benard Ogembo

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