Advantages and disadvantages of biofuels

Biofuel is fuel derived from organic matter in a short period of time, and differs from fossil fuels which need thousands or millions of years to be created.

There are 2 main sorts of biofuel, bio-ethanol and biodiesel. Bio-ethanol is widely used in USA and Brazil and is mostly used as an gasoline additive. Normal cars can use 10-15% of bio-ethanol in their gasoline, without needing an adjustment. Driving on pure bio-ethanol is only possible, when adjustments to the car have been made. Bio-diesel is the most common biofuel in Europe, and can be used as a diesel additive

Their are still debates in what the advantages and disadvantages of these biofuels offer.

The advantages

  • Cost: The potential to cost less than fossil fuels (Will increase in importance as price for fossil fuels will rise when the amount available lowers).
  • Lower carbon emissions: When biofuels are being burned, they produce less carbon output and fewer toxins.
  • Renewability and availability: Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels won’t take long to be able ‘harvest’. And are renewable due to their short time needed to grow.
  • Economic stimulation and security: Where fossil fuels often travel thousands of miles, biofuels can be gathered locally offering jobs for hundreds and thousands of people.

The disadvantages

  • Lower output: Biofuels offer a lower energy output than fossil fuels, therefor need a larger amount for the same energy.
  • Production Carbon Emissions: Where the burning of biofuels create less carbon output and toxins the production is a different thing. Due to nitrate fertilizers and machinery necessary to cultivate the plants several studies have shown that they sometimes create equally or even more greenhouse gasses than the fossil fuels.
  • Food prices and shortages (Mostly for bio-ethanol): Food prices may rise and shortages accur due to the growing demand for biofuels.
  • Water use: Massive quantities of water are used for the cultivation of these plants.


Looking at these advantages and disadvantages I’m not yet entirely convinced. It has a promising future and needs a lot of adjusments to create a revolition in the energy sector. In the european union there are a lot of countries that import biomass to create biodiesel, which brings along pollution etc. In low population density it has a lot of potential as there is a lot of land that can be used and can be locally harvested.

As a reaction to jef’s response on a previous article :

After researching these (dis-)advantages I think the USA and brazil certainly have to continue researching biofuels, but I now see why these biofuels aren’t added to the renewable sector in the charts. They are renewable, but not that environmentally friendly. I think it will have a big impact in the future but only if they find better ways to produce them.


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3 thoughts on “Advantages and disadvantages of biofuels

  1. deckersbram says:

    Very interesting blog, but I have to say that personally I have my concerns about the disadvantages and if the development of biofuels weighs up against them.

    I would also like to point out an extra disadvantage I read about. In Brazil, like you mentioned one of the leading producers of biofuels, massive parts of the Amazon rainforest are being cut down to make room for extra fields to produce biofuels. I stronly believe that that can not be the solution to make the world a “greener” place.

    I heard something about production of biofuels out of algae, I think that can be an interesting evolution as they don’t compete with our food supply and need less of overall surface to produce. What do you think?

    • jefhimself says:

      What you read about the rainforest being cut down for bio-fuels seems to be inaccurate (deforestation causes in Brasil – I’m giving the full link because it’s an interesting page, instead of the relevant references on there). The sugar cane based bio-ethanol seems to be a great thing for Brazil (they actually seem to be much further with it than I thought). I don’t think there are really one-size-fits-all solutions though, and in that respect I’m also pretty excited about algal bio-fuel (something Obama got in ‘trouble’ for for promoting last year or so 😉 ). It reminded me of this video (we may have seen it last year in Beyond Engineering), which also discusses an often missed advantage (in my eyes) of bio-fuels:

      That missed advantage is that bio-fuel production and usage can be integrated into the local environment/ecosystem (as far as I’m concerned, for bio-fuels, that should be the goal too).

  2. gabuglio says:

    It’s an interesting post and a good follow up.

    But yet again it seems like an unstopable discussion and there will always be pro’s and contra’s.

    If you want work with solar cells or with wind energy you also have lots of disadvantages.
    For example for the construction of solar cells you need to word with dangerous and volatile matter like Ge, Si, As,… these can be hazardous for the health of people and for the environment.
    The construction of an windmill park on sea also need a lot of transportation and a lot of energy input before it is ready to work.

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